Why I hate Netflix and why Americans need to stop hating on Netflix' CEO and lighten up

I mean, us Americans? Self-absorbed? Who invented Twitter? Facebook? Foursquare? No, we're not self-absorbed.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

I hate Netflix. Many have accused me of hating Apple, which I don't. I just want Apple to stop its predatory practices.

Netflix, as far as I can tell, doesn't have much in the way of predatory practices, and yet I hate them. Bile, yelling at the TV, arguments with the wife -- that level of hate.

The difference is that Apple angers me professionally, where Netflix ticks me off personally. While I hold Apple's feet to the fire where it's warranted, I seethe whenever the word "Netflix" is uttered.

Why do I hate Netflix so much? Interestingly, that's harder to answer than it might seem. It has to do with Battlestar Galactica, MacGyver, Netflix Watch Instantly, DVDs, and Blu-ray disks.

Before I go into more detail on my absolute hate-hate relationship with Netflix, a quick backgrounder on Reed Hastings and why he's in such hot water.

Hastings is Netflix CEO, and yesterday, he opened his mouth and inserted his foot. Netflix is now available to Canadians in an online-only version. The service costs $7.99 per month. The lowest Americans pay is $8.99 per month. You can start to see where this is going.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, which I think took place in Toronto, Hastings was asked:

Are you concerned that American Netflix subscribers will look north and ask for the same discount Canadians get at $7.99?

To which Hastings replied (watch, now, as his foot rapidly accelerates, going straight for his chompers):

How much has it been your experience that Americans follow what happens in the world? It's something we'll monitor, but Americans are somewhat self-absorbed.

He actually said "Americans are somewhat self-absorbed." But enough about Hastings. Let's talk about why I don't like his company.

I have a number of grievances.

They're grievances because it's reached the point that I'm driving my wife crazy. That's when a complaint becomes a "grievance". Anyway, to whit:

  • The online version of Battlestar Galactica 1980 made almost all of the episodes available online, but not all of them. Why not? You had to order the disk for one episode. Why?
  • Right in the middle of watching the entire MacGyver series on-demand, it went away. That sucks!
  • Half the time when we got a Blu-ray, it didn't play all the way without a problem. There's nothing more frustrating than watching half of W. Now I don't know how the Bush Administration turns out!
  • We have similar problems with DVDs, but not nearly as often!
  • We pay $50 a month for Netflix [we actually don't, and my wife patiently points this out each time I rant] and we don't watch the movies for weeks. It'd be cheaper to buy them! [It wouldn't. She's right.]
  • If you're a secondary user of Netflix, you don't have access to Watch Instantly. This drove me nuts! [My wife finally insisted, to insure domestic tranquility, that I get my own account.] So, now we have to pay double! Why?
  • Watch Instantly often fails or requires me to re-activate the service every single time I watch!

That last one has gotten much better in recent months, but the others are actually reasonable complaints if you sift through the bile. The biggest two are the poor quality of Blu-rays (we actually dropped that service because it was so bad) and the fact that programs that are available on Watch Instantly go away after a while.

I assume the reason that Watch Instantly programs go away has to do with the same movie industry idiocy that pervades everything. This practice does, in fact, make me crazy, but there's really probably nothing Netflix can do about it. Crazy movie industry policies will have to stop if online distribution is to be a long-term viable media without constant consumer aggravation.

Speaking of bile, let's get back to that "somewhat self-absorbed" comment that's got Reed hiding under water and breathing out of a tube.

Next: Netflix and Americans »

Sometime, shortly after his interview aired, someone in his marketing department (or his mom) told Mr. Hastings, "Um, you can't be saying that. It may be true, but you just can't say it."

I mean, us Americans? Self-absorbed? Who invented Twitter? Facebook? Foursquare? No, we're not self-absorbed.

Follow me! Follow me at @DavidGewirtz! Wonder what I'm going to have for dinner. Do these pants make my butt look fat? Look at my shoes! Oh, man, you have to check out the paint job on my car! No, seriously, I do think you should care about what I ate for breakfast. I'm at Gate 22 in SFO. We just bought a baby bed. I'm about to go to class. Wow, I'm just so tired today. Palm Bay sucks! Nobody better say anything bad about my Yankees!

No, Americans aren't self-absorbed. Nah. Not at all.

In fact Americans are so not self-absorbed that when they found out Hastings mentioned that we're somewhat self-absorbed (not even completely self-absorbed, just "somewhat"), certain totally-not-even-self-absorbed people went ballistic.

Hastings had to write a mea culpa. In it, he basically apologized, told Americans (and I'm quoting here):

I do not believe that one of the most philanthropically-minded nations in the world (America) is self-absorbed or full of self-absorbed people.

Because, no, Americans aren't self-absorbed. In fact, Americans are so not self-absorbed that if you read the comments to his apology, you won't find a self-absorbed statement in it.

No, the guy who said he'd accept Hastings apology only if Netflix offered Watch Now for Linux wasn't self-absorbed. The guy who called Hastings an a-hole because the friends feature isn't there anymore isn't self-absorbed. The fifteen people who claimed they canceled their movie subscriptions (thereby freeing up much more of their time to lurk on comment boards) aren't self-absorbed. The guy who claimed he searched out Netflix customer support to vent his anger about the comment wasn't self-absorbed. The guy who called Hastings arrogant wasn't self-absorbed.

And the guy who wished Netflix would go out of business and stop providing a service to 15 million people and hoped all the company's 2000+ employees would lose their jobs because the CEO stuck his foot in his mouth, that guy, too, isn't self-absorbed. Nope. Not at all. Just because his feelings were hurt (or, more likely, he just wanted an excuse for a rant), this troll wanted to see the destruction of the entire Netflix ecosystem. That's most certainly not self-absorbed!

In fact, virtually all of the commenters were so not self-absorbed that they didn't notice why there was a price difference. Americans pay $8.99 per month because we get a DVD by mail. Canadians don't get the DVD. They get less and so they pay less.

Let me be clear. I love America and I love that we're self-absorbed. We wouldn't be nearly as great a nation if we weren't so incredibly selfish. Enlightened self-interest drives innovation, progress, and success, and self-absorbedness is at the heart of enlightened self-interest.

That's not to say that I don't still hate Netflix. I do.

But I think Hastings deserves a break and we all need to lighten up. The idea that we all have to be perfect is a fallacy. We all make mistakes. Honestly, Hastings was speaking the truth. Americans (or at least many of us) are self-absorbed. His comment boards proved that. But we need to cut each other some slack, and chill out -- both on the Netflix comment boards and in real life. We all need to take a chill pill.

But back to me.

Hastings, I know you're reading this, you self-absorbed, CEO, bleep'n-bleep-beep. Bring back my Watch Instantly episodes of MacGyver.

Or else!

P.S. My incredibly patient and tolerant wife, after enduring years of my various semi-irrational rants about Netflix, was genuinely amused to see I was working on a somewhat positive piece about Netflix. She wanted to be sure I recognized the irony. I do, Honey, I honestly, honestly do!

Update: A couple of people asked why the second account without Watch Instantly was a problem. Yes, we could watch my wife's Watch Instantly queue on our TiVo (when the Watch Instantly worked). But on my Netflix Queue, there was no indication of whether a movie was Play Instantly or not. So that meant I often wound up waiting to get disks for movies that I could have watched instantly, had the Netflix queue on the second account reflected it.

Shameless complaining aside, I think that the fact that secondary accounts don't have a Watch Instantly option (even though we're paying for it), don't reflect any Watch Instantly information in any searches or in the Web interface, and effectively require you to give other family members your password if you want to let them use Watch Instantly is a failure on Netflix' part.

Update 2: Had to add a link to this. Pimples. Really?

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