The End of an Era

Yesterday morning, a stack of ungraded essays in front of me, I finished watching “Frost / Nixon,” a fascinating account of the television interviews that planted the disgraced president firmly in the camp of the forgotten. As the credits started to roll, I punched the eject button and slid the DVD into a plastic sleeve, then into the signature red envelope, and padded downstairs and outside to plunk it in the mailbox.

This is a scenario I’ve repeated hundreds of times since we joined Netflix in 2003, soon after we were married. I convinced Rob that it was a more economical solution than paying for cable; plus, I argued, we would be able to watch movies of greater diversity and intellectual caliber than the drivel on HBO. And although my first pick was, ironically, Top Gun, we did watch many more unusual gems over the years.  Nearly half of my rated films (which number 1954) were watched via Netflix, and we were happy and loyal customers.

And now they’re screwing it all up.  First, by raising their prices an inordinate amount (our service went from $10 per month to $16.)  Second, by backtracking to explain that they are really splitting the company in half to capture both the DVD-by-mail and the instant-watch markets.  Third, by choosing the name Qwikster for their new DVD service: it’s trite, juvenile and comes with its own set of problems.

Like everyone else, I’ve grumbled about having to choose between two services, both of which are useful (on principle, I refuse to accept a 60% price hike.)  We’ve rented 503 discs from Netflix over the last 8 years, but we’ve watched 490 on-demand movies, and in all likelihood that number would rise much faster if we’d kept both.  (As an example, the last two discs I had to return yesterday shipped in mid-July and late August, and I only just got around to watching them both; meanwhile, we watched dozens of movies and TV shows on the website.)  But part of me feels like canceling the membership altogether, simply out of protest.

So I’m taking the coward’s way out — that is to say, I’m postponing my decision.  We’ve placed our account on hold for three months.  The semester is usually too busy to watch many movies anyway, and in the meantime we’re holding out hope that a better option will present itself.  (Blockbuster has proven itself incompetent during two trial periods, but I’m hearing good things about Hulu Plus.)

I don’t mean to romanticize a business merger, but truthfully, I am a little sad that they’re changing.  This was a company that was really, really good at one thing: you could get almost any DVD from or to their warehouse in one day, so that you could almost watch a different movie every night.  Customer service was streamlined and simple (no questions asked if a DVD never arrived or wouldn’t play correctly — they simply shipped another one.)  I can’t imagine they’ll be as successful doing what everyone else is already doing — putting free or low-cost content on the Internet for all the world to see.  But, for old time’s sake, I wish them luck.