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If rumors and reports are to be believed, Netflix is about to go from being a DVD and streaming content delivery service to a television channel. But why? Isn’t that exactly the exact opposite of the reason why everyone likes Netflix in the first place?
The rumors of Netflix’s switch to television channel first surfaced after CEO Reed Hastings called the idea “the natural direction in the long term” during an appearance at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference last month, and gained momentum when Reuters reported that the company was meeting with cable companies to discuss the idea. The traditional anonymous sources are suggesting that Netflix may be considering becoming a premium channel to compete with HBO, continuing (and escalating) the long-standing and increasingly ridiculous competition between the two companies, which sounds… well, more than a little unnecessary, to say the least.
The draw of Netflix is that it’s not a traditional television channel; whether you’re using the streaming service or the DVD mailings, the appeal is as much that you control what you’re watching as much as it is the content that you’re watching. You want to watch all five seasons of Friday Night Lights in one sitting? Go ahead. You want to pick through your favorite Star Treks? It’s all there for you! What about trying to see if you can survive all of The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy? You can do that, too! Netflix works so well because it isn’t television; you don’t have to wait to watch your favorite shows, and you don’t have to sit through things you don’t care about in order to get to the good stuff.
(Of course, you can make the argument that DVRs make that last part true for all television channels these days, but even then, there are commercials and the inability to binge unless you’re very patient to begin with.)
Turning Netflix into a television channel – even an On Demand extra for potential cable carrier partners – feels like a step towards removing the company’s selling point, because it removes the selection (and, in the case of a traditional channel, the choice) and “normalizes” what the company is. It also feels like it could risk licensing deals with studios and content producers because, wouldn’t the TV rights for shows and movies already be assigned elsewhere? I know that Netflix is moving into the production space with things like Lilyhammer, House of Cards and Arrested Development, but that isn’t anywhere close to enough of a slate to launch a channel properly, meaning that other programming will be necessary – but will producers be so willing to allow Netflix the rights for their work when the company is more obviously “the competition”?
In the last year of so, Netflix has started to make multiple seemingly obvious “bad” decisions, whether it was the unavoidable raising of the subscription fees or the entirely avoidable decision to split the company into “Netflix” and “Qwikster” – and the climbdown that followed that decision – with each further move plunging the company into rockier waters, at least in terms of consumer confidence. Is the idea of Netflix TV just the latest wrong move, or is there a unforeseen twist in the tale waiting to be announced?