Confessions of a Netflix Junkie

Note: The writer is neither a Netflix employee nor stockholder. He does not have any affiliation with the company other than being a loyal customer .

One morning not too long ago I lost my cell phone. I worried the whole day about whether I would ever see my precious phone again. Mind you, I lived the first 28 years of my life without a cell phone and somehow survived. That didn't matter. Now that I had one I couldn't live without it. When a kind stranger returned the phone I felt like a death row inmate who got the magic call from the governor. Should it have been such a big deal? No, but it was.

Funny how certain products and services play such a huge role in our daily existence. I used to do just fine without Netflix. I'd already owned a DVD player for a few years and had built up an impressive collection. In the rare instance where I wanted to see a film that I didn't own and couldn't borrow from my roommate, I rented it the old fashioned way, by driving to the video store. Then around a year ago my film discussion group was having a session on John Cassevetes. I trouped down to many video stores and found nothing from the maverick director often credited as the father of independent film. Some friends mentioned Netflix, I signed up, and was hooked.

For those who may not know, Netflix is an Internet DVD rental service. You pick any three DVDs from their catalog and Netflix mails them to you within two days. You can keep the DVDs as long as you want, but can only have three out at any one time. You return Netflix DVDs by simply putting them back in the pre-addressed, pre-paid envelope dropping them in the mail. Netflix also offers a “queue” – a list of other DVDs you want to rent. As you return the DVDs, Netflix sends you the next ones from your queue. Netflix charges one flat monthly rate for the service. That's it.

Many choose Netflix for the convenience of having the DVDs delivered and saving a trip to the video store. I like this aspect, but what does if for me is the selection. How many times have you traveled to you local Blockbuster and found 20 copies of all the “hot” new releases but zero for the film you wanted to rent. Or it has one copy which is checked out. Video stores are like your average local multiplex, skewing heavily towards what it deems to be the most popular films, and usually playing to the lowest common denominator.

Now for all I know Netflix probably also has many more copies of the popular hits than it does of the older or more obscure films. But it doesn't matter, because I'm not renting from a small store but a huge warehouse. So most of the time I can get what I want.

The Queue feature may seem trivial, but it quickly becomes a very useful tool. How many times have you thought of a movie you'd like to rent and then quickly forget? For me it was too many. I'd sometimes write down a list of films, but then I'd lose the list. Even when I didn't I'd rarely remember to take the list with when I went to the video store. With Netflix, the moment I think of the film, I go on the site and put it in my queue. The whole process takes less than a minute. I may forget about that film, but it's there sitting in my queue. So at some point I will see it.

The queue is also great for filling in the blanks. As someone who considers himself a film buff, it nags me that there are many critical movies I've missed. Over the past few months I've caught up with films such as The Pawnbroker, Five Easy Pieces, Roger & Me, In Cold Blood, Twelve Angry Men and The Mouse That Roared. Filling in the blanks can also extend to directors. For me Hal Ashby and Bob Rafelson are two examples. I can focus on any star, any director, or any genre.

Netflix can quickly grow addictive. Ironically, even though Netflix lets me keep DVDs as long as I want, it motivates me to see them and return them right away. The faster I get the movies back, the faster I receive the next ones on my list. And the flat rate mans that using Netflix more does not mean spending more money.

Recently Blockbuster has tried to hone in on Netflix's game. First they pretended to eliminate late fees. That hoax was exposed, but now Blockbuster has copied Netflix's service. They're trying the Wal-Mart method, offering a similar product at slightly cheaper prices. Blockbuster drove so many Mom and Pop video stores out of business. Will they do the same with Netflix?

Call it blind optimism, but I don't think so. Blockbuster is a behemoth trying to corner yet another part of the video and DVD rental industry. Netflix is a true American success story. It created the Internet DVD rental service in 1999, which is a long time ago in the short history of DVDs. Its founder, Reed Hastings, saw an opportunity and made the most of it. He and his team developed something original and it blossomed. Let's hope it blossomed long enough to withstand the surge by the Evil Empire. Long live Netflix!!!

Adam Spector
April 19, 2005

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