Netflix Cuts Off Cheapskates
Plus: A TV Show Assigned!
Netflix has decided that it can no longer afford to allow cheapskates to share passwords, and will institute a plan designed to eliminate such leeching. How, exactly, they will do this without interrupting the ability of actual customers to watch what they pay for is still, apparently, somewhat up in the air. CNBC reports something about texting a PIN number and giving people 15 minutes to confirm; earlier versions of the Twitter FAQ said you’d have to check in on your home IP address once a month to make keep using that device.
This has led to much chortling, since Netflix once tweeted this:
Setting the schadenfreude aside, objections to this plan as it relates to Netflix’s revenue came in three basic varieties.
Objection One. See above: The technical difficulties of ensuring everyone who watches Netflix lives in the household that is paying for access will either be insurmountable or become such an onerous pain in the butt that people will bail on the service altogether. This is possible, I guess, though I imagine it’ll be less of a hassle than folks think and Netflix will wind up creating a system where devices are tied to accounts or something. I dunno, I’m not an engineer.
Objection Two. This is unfair to families that share accounts. Will college kids have to pay for access to Netflix? Won’t someone please think of the children! (Well, not children. You know who I mean. Moochers thou still let into thy hut.) Again, I think this is a relatively minor problem in the grand scheme of things but it does seem designed to reduce the appeal of plans that allow for multiple profiles under the same account. I imagine Netflix feels that the number of people who switch to cheaper plans (or quit altogether) will be offset by the number of people who sign up for new cheaper plans. It will be curious to see what this does to average revenue per user, if anything.
Objection Three. This will cost Netflix money because it increases the likelihood of piracy, which Netflix helped reduce because it offered a ton of stuff for a relatively low price and ease of access.
A variation on this third objection is offered here:
So, a few counter-objections to this last one:
I don’t think “We’re not paying for this and we’re going to continue not paying for this by adopting piracy” is really that compelling of a threat, financially speaking.
The implied peril of piracy (“gives us what we want for free or we’ll steal it anyway”) is a healthy reminder that people who steal movies are louts.
Most importantly, though, is the implicit understanding that streaming was too good a deal to be true.
The fundamental fact of Netflix is that it lost tons and tons of money for years and years because it offered an enormous amount of #content for a very low price. In so doing, Netflix trained consumers to expect tons and tons of movies and TV shows for very little money, which in turn devalued the product being created by filmmakers, reduced the amount of money people who make films get paid, and essentially crippled entire genres of filmmaking.
I see this Matt Damon clip go viral every couple of months:
It goes viral every few months, but few people really internalize its meaning.
The argument that “Netflix was easier than stealing” only worked because a.) Netflix was the only game in town and b.) charging customers much, much less than what its catalog was actually worth which c.) hollowed out a big revenue stream. DVD revenue didn’t “disappear”; it was actively destroyed (with the aid of the studio execs who chased short-term dollars offered by Netflix in order to pad their revenue and earn bigger bonuses, it should be noted). The true value/cost of streaming is something closer to what we have now, where you either subscribe to everything at a cost surpassing cable or cancel everything and pay per-movie-rental via Vudu/Amazon/wherever or rotate through everything in a rigorous and methodical manner, paying for Paramount+ one month then canceling, HBO Max one month then canceling, Netflix one month then canceling, etc.
All of which is to say that I’m glad Netflix is cutting off freeloaders and I’m amused by complaints from said freeloaders that they’ll just have to go back to piracy because paying for art is too heavy a burden. (Fuck them artists, amirite?) But I can’t feel too much pity for Netflix as they navigate this mess. It’s entirely of their own making.
I’m very excited for this week’s episode of The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood, as we have Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield and a showrunner on CBS’s SWAT as well as the forthcoming Netflix series The Night Agent) on to talk about his perspective, as a negotiator for the Writers Guild of America, on the fights between the union and the producers over the last decade-plus. You can subscribe at the podcast provider of your choice here.
And if you’re a Bulwark+ subscriber, make sure to check out this week’s bonus episode of Across the Movie Aisle, in which we discuss if a movie can be truly anti-war.
This week I briefly wrote up the three best picture nominees I’d thus far neglected to review: Triangle of Sadness, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Women Talking. At that review, you’ll also find handy links to all of my reviews of the year’s best films, as nominated by Oscar voters.
Iranian director Jafar Panahi is on hunger strike to protest his unjust imprisonment at the hands of the regime in Tehran. Hopefully western leaders will do more to aid the Iranian people in their quest for freedom.
A keen-eyed reader alerted me to the fact that Cinemark is charging matinee prices for all showings of 80 for Brady. And, as I was writing this newsletter, I got an email from the Alamo Drafthouse informing me that they were doing the same thing. While I can’t imagine this will take hold for every film—the target audience for this picture probably overlaps pretty heavily with senior tickets—variable pricing is good and smart! More movies/theater chains should try this.
The dumbest Oscar controversy of all time has been resolved: turns out Andrea Riseborough will not lose her nomination in the best actress category as a result of her friends sending people emails. A tired nation can rest easy. (For more on this nontroversy, listen to this week’s Across the Movie Aisle.)
Assigned Viewing: Poker Face (Peacock)
I’ve really been loving this new series from Rian Johnson starring Natasha Lyonne as a woman who can tell when anyone is lying and uses this mutant power to solve crimes while she travels the country avoiding a casino owner who wants her dead. Poker Face is the best of all worlds: It combines the modern style and sensibility of cinema-quality television (helps that the first two episodes were directed by Johnson who, whatever else you want to say about him, has an absolutely immaculate eye) with the throwback, mystery-of-the-week structure of a Columbo or some such. Anyway, fun show, check it out.