Netflix

Is Netflix about to drop DVDs (again)?

Let me preface this by saying I love Netflix: I love the process, I love the depth of their DVD library, I love their new streaming content, and coupled with AppleTV it’s a great service. When Netflix works right it’s one of the best services out there.

That said, in the past year they’ve been moving toward demoting their DVD service and it looks like they’re working on a way to drop it without causing as much of a stir as they did the last time they tried this (remember Qwikster?).

For a detailed history: Wikipedia: Netflix.

On their web site, the DVD queue is now a separate list and that part of their web site is at dvd.netflix.com.

When I called Netflix to report a problem getting DVDs in my queue I first got connected to someone from the streaming end, then I waited with muzak while they transferred me to the DVD end. This seems to point to the idea that they are less concerned with the DVD service than they have been in the past.

When I told Netflix about slow service they pointed to the US Post Office and it may be true that the Post Office is responsible for the slowness but its not responsible for the web site and the support phone tree. Something is going on.

One thing that’s happened in the past year is the US Post Office’s various services have changed, consolidated, and gotten worse. I love the Post Office and use it a lot but it doesn’t take heavy use to see that either they’re being starved by a Congress who won’t adequately fund them, and/or, they’re simply not a well run organization, or most probably, a bit of both.

In the old days (mid year last) the DVD disc turn around for Netflix was almost overnight for me. That has slid to a week or more.

Netflix says they’re working with the Post Office to resolve this but my guess is Reed Hastings (CEO) who tried to dump DVDs before and undid the change because of universal negative user feedback now has the cover to dump DVDs and I think he’s gearing up to do it.

This would be a shame because Netflix does not offer the depth in their streaming service that they do through DVDs. This is partly because the internet is feeling the strain of so much streaming, and partly because distribution agreements don’t allow streaming of all content.

If Netflix is going to offer a service, it ought to work correctly or they should fix it, and if they can’t fix it then drop it. This slowly cutting off the oxygen to the DVD service is a bad idea. Netflix has great content, but in my mind, the process is at least part of their product.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

I saw this trailer on Devour, found the documentary on Netflix and Anne and I watched it the other night.

The jaw-dropping true story of a real-life “Bad News Bears,” this inspiring documentary recounts the history of the Portland Mavericks, an independent professional baseball team that broke attendance records in 1973 with a roster that included a blacklisted former Yankee pitcher, a left-handed catcher, the sport’s first female general manager, and young movie star Kurt Russell, whose actor father Bing was the scrappy team’s owner.

I’m not a big sports fan and even though I lived in Eugene, Oregon during the time this team played in Portland, I’d never heard of them. That said, this documentary is a must. An amazing story, well told, about an amazing time and an amazing team.

TED talks on Netflix

TED expands its reach with streaming talks on Netflix

Netflix streaming library doesn’t have all the deep content their DVD library has but it has plenty of gems and there’s enough content up there to justify an AppleTV if you’re into such things.

Now you can watch TED talks on your computer, iPad, iPhone or, your TV.

Searching for stuff like this on AppleTV is tough but setting up a nice, fat Netflix streaming que on your computer is easy. Here’s the beginning of a TED list to add to your que if you’re into such things: TED Talks on Netflix.

Why Netflix should not drop DVD rentals

I wrote my first post on the Netflix fiasco (Netflix has made a big mistake and it’s not only in pricing) the morning I got Reed Hastings’ poorly written email about their upcoming changes. Since then I’ve calmed down and thought more about it.

I’ve also read dozens of posts about it, many of them very well thought out and written. No one seems to be defending DVD rentals for the reasons I’m going to list here.

1. DVDs have better image quality than streaming video. If you’ve invested in a decent HD TV, that’s meaningful.

2. DVDs have extras on them not available to streaming customers. I love the behind the scenes, making of, and other goodies on “loaded” DVDs and when I can, I always buy DVDs that have them. Many Netflix rentals have them as well. Streaming offers none of this.

3. The Netflix DVD library is extensive and Netflix may not be able to rip enough of it to make streaming have the long tail of content their DVD library has.

4. If Netflix could and did rip their entire DVD library and their entire 24 million person subscriber base moved to streaming, do you think the current internet could handle it? I don’t. Not at this point. While streaming is no doubt the future this Netflix move is premature given the current limitations of streaming to such a large user base.

My plan is to stick with the new Netflix and whatever the other company will be called for a while to see how it goes but if it doesn’t go well and gets even more expensive I’ll go back to buying DVDs for my collection and reselling them if I watch and don’t like them. I did this for years before joining Netflix and given that if I like a movie I’ll watch it multiple times, I’ll just do it again.

But I’d rather use Netflix, just the way it was.

An opportunity for public libraries

Some may be thinking that this Netflix misstep might be an incredible opportunity for local DVD rental businesses but I doubt that. Brick and mortar costs serious money. What it is however, is an incredible opportunity for public libraries.

Our little library in Warren, Connecticut (population 1000) has a growing collection of both video cassettes and DVDs. I’ve donated dozens of DVDs to them (nice tax write-off) and will continue to do this over time.

Public libraries are free and while their DVD checkout policies aren’t like Netflix’ they’re long enough so one has plenty of time to watch the movies checked out.

If I were running a public library I’d be buying up DVD collections like mad right now and hoping Netflix put their DVDs for sale at some point in bulk so I could buy those too.

No doubt libraries are hurt by Kindles and iPads and other e-readers but those who bet that the end of the physical book is on the horizon may be the same people who are betting that the end of the DVD is on the horizon.

That horizon isn’t in sight yet and physical media has a future. It may not be as commercially viable as it once was but public libraries aren’t money making institutions, they’re pubic services.

Given the economy, as services like Netflix/Qwikster become more expensive free public services like libraries become more attractive.

Netflix has made a big mistake and it’s not only in pricing

I want to preface this with the fact that I was a late comer to Netflix but thanks to my stepdaughter Jessica I’ve used and loved it for three years now. Given that I watch a lot of movies, both on DVD from Netflix and streaming from them through an AppleTV their recent price increase, which was significant, did not drive me away or even give me much pause.

This post from Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, explaining the price increase: An Explanation and Some Reflections is what gives me pause. It’s a poorly written, convoluted explanation of a bad idea. Read the comments, they’re telling.

Here’s their video apology:

He makes no apologies for the price increase, just for not letting us know why Netflix has done it. The reason they did it is because they are separating their two businesses: DVD rental and streaming. The DVD rental business will be renamed Qwikster and the current web site will be rebranded with this name and a new logo and will sit at a new domain. It will have its own separate charge on your credit card.

While I agree that the future of Netflix is streaming movies over the internet this is the most awkward way to handle the transition I can imagine.

For a company that’s done well, it’s obvious to me that Reed Hastings and Netflix have no clue how their loyal customers are hurt by this and it’s not just the price increase, it’s the separation of the services into two web sites.

For me the appeal of Netflix is their web site where I can search for a movie, decide how I want to watch it (DVD or streaming if its available on both) and then, rate it when I’ve watched it. One web site, one search, decide on platform if possible, then one rating. And, the rating system helps fine tune the Netflix recommendation engine which has worked amazingly well for me, pointing me to movies I’d never heard of or considered before. I enjoy poking around the Netflix site rating and re-rating movies. The separation of the two services will mean I’ll have to do it twice.

At this point very little of the content I like to watch on Netflix is available through streaming so much of my business comes through DVD rental. Unless they’ve got much of their collection digitized and will be announcing it soon, I’d drop Netflix (streaming) before I dropped Qwikster (DVD rental).

It may be that the problems with the US Post Office will lead to enough of a price increase for mailing DVDs that the business model Netflix was founded on won’t work anymore. Anyone who’s thought about this for more than a minute understands that at some point in the future Netflix won’t be shipping out DVDs anymore but that transition from, as Nicholas Negroponte put it “atoms to bits” is as much about marketing and keeping “old skool” customers happy and in the fold as it is about an internal business model change that none of us customers were told about.

The mistake is the way they’re doing this, not the price increase on the service. This stumble may put them out of business.

Circus

Circus

Circus is a new six-hour series that takes you on an unforgettable trip with the legendary Big Apple Circus. From the big top to the “back lot,” explore a distinctive world with its own rules, lingo and no fixed address. Follow the diverse characters who make up the Big Apple family and find out what it really means to live life in the ring.

I first posted this in 2010: This recently aired on PBS, we missed it but we can all watch it in one hour segments online. I just finished the first hour and it’s fantastic. This is great behind the scenes footage of amazing performers and producers and circus culture.

Update: We’ve now watched all six 1 hour segments of this show using Netflix and while not perfect it’s quite good. You can watch the segments on the PBS site: here or you can get DVDs or watch it streaming on Netflix here. We watched it streaming with AppleTV.

What’s great about this “docudrama” is the behind the scenes stories of performers, management, and tent riggers. What makes The Big Apple Circus great is that it’s somewhere between street performing and Cirque du Soleil, meaning, it’s well produced but it’s a one ring circus, not a Las Vegas act. The performers are real human beings and we get to see both the behind the scenes and the polished performance.

The Big Apple Circus maintains a “wikipedia-like” site called Circopedia. I found some highlight videos of Sarah Schwarz doing her tight wire act and the LaSalle Brothers doing their juggling act. There’s plenty more video up there so poke around.

How much photo retouching is too much?

Supermodel’s Photoshop Horror

A former Sports Illustrated cover model is suing an Estee Lauder company for allegedly damaging her career with a fake promo using a Photoshopped picture of her. The suit is the latest wrinkle in the global phenomenon of photo retouching.

An interesting example of this type of photo retouching is this Dove Evolution piece.

Here’s another piece by Tom Piper commissioned by Dove called “Beauty Pressure.”

Reminds me of the documentary America the Beautiful (available on Netflix) which takes up the theme of our obsession with beauty and our standards of thinness, among other things.

The chicken-egg of this is, are advertisers (producers, editors, retouchers) leading us to want certain things, or are they responding to what they perceive (correctly or incorrectly) as our desire for these things?

No doubt it’s a bit of both.

Apple TV is amazing

I recently ordered quite a bit of new gear from Apple including an Apple TV. First, some background:

In the past year we upgraded our old tube TV to a relatively large (40″ and now I wish we’d gone bigger) HD set and it’s been wonderful for the small amount of PBS television and the large number of movies we watch, well, I watch. Anne would rather read but tunes in when she’s interested.

My stepdaughter Jessica gave me a great demo of the NetFlix web site and service a year ago and sold me on it, we’ve been happy subscribers ever since. I rarely stream movies on my computer and had not bought a Roku box for the TV, preferring an Apple product if I have a choice.

So, we had all the ingredients for considering an Apple TV and after doing some research I finally understood what it did. In short, I think it’s one of the most interesting products Apple has ever produced but few people really understand it and it may take a while to take off.

We have an AirPort Extreme router upstairs in the office that easily covers the entire house and yard with WIFI but I also had an AirPort Express downstairs connected to it via ethernet running in the walls. This enabled us to play music and streaming radio from our computers, wirelessly via an optical cable that ran between the AirPort Express and our stereo. It worked like a charm for many years.

Apple TV replaced the AirPort Express which is now sitting in a drawer.

Here’s how it hooks up and how it works

1. Plug in Apple TV (to power).

2. Connect Apple TV to ethernet or use wirelessly to connect to your network.

3. Run HDMI cable out of Apple TV into your HD TV.

That’s it on the hardware side. No router configuration needed, nothing.

4. Turn on TV, cycle to the HDMI input that Apple TV is on.

5. Run through a very short setup menu using Apple TV remote to navigate.

6. Use menus to find NetFlix. Log in with username and password.

You’re now set to browse and stream movies. Four minutes after opening the Apple TV box I was watching a movie.

We’re not dropping NetFlix DVDs even with the recent price increase because not enough of their content is streamable but as more content is digitized more people will opt out of getting DVDs and save some money.

7. Use menus to find flickr. Login to your account.

You’re now set to run slide shows of your work or anyone else’s on your HD TV. Trust me, it looks great.

8. Run iTunes and choose Apple TV as the output and whatever you’re playing will show up on your TV or play out of your connected speakers, wirelessly.

9. Use Apple TV menu to find radio. Steam your favorite NPR station in real time instead of attempting to pick it up via broadcast. Works like a charm.

AirTunes
Now, with iOS 4.2 you can stream both iPhone and iPad to Apple TV wirelessly without going through a computer. This is called AirPlay and it’s one of the killer capabilities of this system.

Start watching a movie on your iPad, decide you want to watch it on your big TV so choose AirPlay on iPad, make sure TV is on and HDMI input is set to Apple TV and your movie appears on the TV. It’s that simple. This can be done from an iPad and iPod Touch or an iPhone. Anne and I just experimented with both of our iPhones and an iPad and it works flawlessly for both music and video.

Holy ####!

Let me repeat, we don’t watch a lot of TV, this is not about TV alone (although Apple and NetFlix have a lot of streaming TV available through Apple TV), this is about getting all of your digital media playing in a central place for everyone to see.

Apple TV isn’t going to be for everyone but I can say without a doubt that it’s a joy to set up and use and it does what it’s supposed to do flawlessly. And, at $99 it’s not so expensive that people who understand what it does will avoid it because of price.

Apple used to have a marketing strategy called “digital hub” which put an iMac in the center of your digital life. Apple TV is like a branch of a more distributed home digital network and it’s going to slowly give Apple a way into the living room.