STREAMING SATURDAY: Netflix “Flaws” Explained

Netflix often gets criticized for not being the “Blockbuster” of streaming services. There’s actually a good reason why it doesn’t have a limitless library of titles to stream.

One of the biggest criticisms of Netflix is that it’s not the Blockbuster Video of streaming services. By this, I mean that many Netflix users – my intrepid colleague, Stuart Sweet included – wish that Netflix was a repository of millions of movie title, new and old. I agree with Stuart that it would be great to be able to watch new release movies on Netflix roughly nine months after those flicks appear in theaters. It would also be great if Netflix had a limitless list of older movies for those times when I need a 1980s or 1990s movie fix. And the reason this wish list isn’t possible? Simple economics.

Netflix currently costs subscribers $7.99-$8.99 per month. In order to maintain this attractive low price, especially for all the original content it provides, the network is limited in the amount of money it can spend to license content. The more movies, new and old, that Netflix acquires, the more it would have to charge users for its memberships. This is simple economics folks, no different than anything else in this consumer culture we live in.

Keep on thing in mind – none of the programming shown on Netflix is actually owned by Netflix. Yes, this includes its original programming such as House of Cards or Stranger Things. Netflix licenses these shows – in other words, it rents these movies – from the studios that own the rights to them. If Netflix responded to mine and others demands to have more content available at our fingertips, that means a lot of money spent to license it.

As much as I like movies such as The Breakfast Club or Roadside Prophets, there’s only so many times a year I want to watch them. (Usually when I’m feeling nostalgic for my wasted youth.) This means there’s zero return for Netflix’s major licensing investment. There would really only be one way to recoup those losses, and that’s by raising its monthly subscription rates. Then me and nearly every other Netflix subscriber would curse Netflix as yet another example of “evil, money hungry corporations who’ve lost touch with 99 percent of the population.”

Here’s Jenny McCabe, Netflix’s director of global media relations, to put a finer point on it:

So, there’s the reason Netflix doesn’t have new movies or a huge library of old ones. As in most things in life, the most things in life, the simplest, most practical explanation is usually the answer to the question. This makes Netflix the Occam’s Razor of streaming services, I guess. Netflix is not a library of movies, per se; it’s a curator of content that includes some of the best original programming on the planet. Delivering all this great content at such a low monthly price should be enough to convince any streamer to look beyond any perceived flaws they think Netflix has.