Sometimes I’m not the earliest adopter of new technology trends. I got a cell phone much later than my friends. I got Windows 98 in the year 2000. I got a DVD player only a few years ago, and only recently got a digital video recorder (DVR).
But perhaps I can be an “early opt-out’er,” a person who’s early to drop a technology that doesn’t serve them. In this case, the service is Netflix, which lets you rent DVDs by mail for a monthly charge. I’ve had the service for a few years, and loved the simplicity of setting up a queue online of movies I want, having them appear in my mailbox magically as I return them.
The site also has some nifty features such as a recommendation engine, suggesting movies you’d like based on your ratings of similar movies, and friends’ lists so you can see what your buddies think about certain movies. But I noticed that my three DVDs from Netflix tend to sit around and gather dust week by week, to the point where it doesn’t make financial sense to spend about $20 per month to watch three DVDs.
I find myself going to the local video store down the street, especially to get videos for my 3-year-old son, Julian. Netflix never seemed to make sense for kids’ movies because he wants instant gratification and couldn’t understand picking out movies online and then waiting a few days before they would arrive. Plus, I limit how many videos he watches each week, so the video overload of Netflix doesn’t work there.
That’s also part of the problem. For the Netflix math to pay off for me, I would have to watch a certain number of movies each month. And after I watch each one, I would have to remember to drop it in the mail promptly to get a replacement movie. Even though it seems more convenient than getting a movie from the rental store, the Netflix process builds up its own frets and hassles. If I forget to watch my queue I might get a movie I already watched on pay-per-view, or a movie I thought I would like 6 months ago, but have lost interest in by now.
Though I haven’t always been a huge fan of the local video stores, it’s nice to support local businesses — and to get out of the house once in a while and walk down the street (in this case, a large San Francisco hill). Along with the decent local video store, I also can choose from video on-demand through my RCN cable service, which now offers about 130 new releases, 70 older movies, and a random selection of free kids shows and premium cable shows. It does cost $3.99 per new release ($2.99 per oldie), but it’s the ultimate in convenience, and lets you pause, rewind, or save it for another day.
I realize that I could have lowered my cost by doing Netflix’s 2-at-a-time service for $9.99, but I decided to quit cold turkey and see if I really miss it. I wonder whether the combination of a local video store and on-demand movies via cable will satisfy my home movie-watching needs. And of course there’s the possibility that I’ll end up paying more this way.
Will this early opt-out’er trend catch on with Netflix subscribers? It doesn’t look likely now, as Netflix is up to almost 5 million subscribers, and one financial analyst predicted it would have nearly 18 million subscribers by 2010 — with an annual growth rate of 34%.
One thing is for sure. If I do want to opt back in, Netflix will be awaiting my return with open arms. When I visited the site today — the day after cancelling — I was greeted with the following personalized message:
“Hi Mark Glaser! We’re pleased that you’ve returned to restart your membership.”
Uh, not quite.
What do you think about Netflix and other mail order DVD services? Do you think they’ll die out with the advent of movie downloads and on-demand cable and satellite services? Share your happy and not-so-happy stories about being a Netflix customer. Use the comments below to share your thoughts.