Why Netflix is Still the King…

Politics is the ultimate entertainment.

Over at The Atlantic, a sober estimation of why TV is outperforming movies as quality entertainment:

Networks love the cable bundle for the same reason that viewers hate it: It’s a relentless (i.e. dependable) transfer of money from households to networks, regardless of what television or how much television we watch. “Basic-cable channels have to broadcast shows that are so good that audiences will go nuts when denied them,” Adam Davidson wrote in the New York Times. “Pay-TV channels, which kick-started this economic model, are compelled to make shows that are even better.” Thus, television has seen a race to the top while Hollywood has experienced an ostensible race to the middle-bottom.

Back to Netflix. The company’s business decision to chase exclusive TV rights was not an act of charity for TV fans; it was a business decision. Netflix has two things going for it: its deep library and its wonderful streaming technology. Keeping the library of quality titles deep is getting very expensive very quickly. And Showtime and HBO can compete with Netflix on streaming tech, even if they’re also tethered to the cable bundle. So, Netflix needs to increase its value in the eyes of the 120 million households who aren’t Netflix subscribers. Following in the footsteps of HBO and Showtime by going after original titles is the smart next step.

I’ve been watching House of Cards, Netflix’ original series starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, and directed by David Fincher. It’s fun, even if not quite as epoch-making as Mad Men or Breaking Bad. A Machiavellian congressman with an unctuous South Carolina accent is a good role for Spacey, and the writing is smart. If Netflix has the money for Oscar-caliber actors and directors, then they have the money to compete with the Premium channels without drastically altering their price point (that $8 a month may creep up, but that’s still nothing compared to HBO on top of basic cable service).

Netflix is no longer the only streaming service out there, but it’s still the best. When I got my Roku XD box, I discovered that I could also stream Amazon Instant videos, some of them free with my Prime Membership. But Amazon’s library of free videos is small compared to Netflix, its browsing display shows you the same titles over and over again, and its streaming just isn’t as reliable. Last month I finally got around to watching Ted. It wasn’t a Prime video, so I had to pay $3.99 to rent it for 48 hours. It skipped and hiccuped in the last third of the film, and kept re-streaming at a lower quality rate, until by the end it looked like I was watching a VHS copy that had been soaked in bleach for a few weeks. I’ve had this happen a few times with Amazon’s streaming. It never happens with Netflix.

HuluPlus, which costs as much as Netflix, has a needlessly complicated navigation system, still doesn’t have distribution deals with CBS and F/X (No HIMYM, Sons of Anarchy, or Archer) and has several titles still Web only (I haven’t seen an episode of Happy Endings in months, as we can only watch it on wifey’s computer upstairs in bed, and I keep falling asleep). Netflix is elegantly simple: the stuff on your Queue, and the other stuff, broken down by genre.

The others, such as Crackle, VuDu, etc., are all so much background noise, me-too services. I imagine everyone’s going to set such a service up eventually, and eventually some of them will be able to compete with Netflix. But everyone who declared it dead when it split it’s DVD and streaming services turned out to be dead wrong. They’ve sucessfully shifted from being  the all-online Blockbuster to being the streaming king, and now they’re about to trade punches with the cable heavyweights. Invest in popcorn.

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