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Netflix: more like what its name implies

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Netflix is coming along. The pioneer of the DVD-by-mail model made waves today with two announcements completely unrelated to the iconic red envelopes that customers love to find waiting in their mailboxes.

First was news that the company's "watch instantly" feature will now be getting content from the cable movie network Starz. Second was what many Apple users has been waiting for: Mac support for the same online service.

Both new developments signal a shift in the company's approach to delivering members content.

The "watch instantly" feature – introduced in January 2007 with 1,000 titles – freed subscribers from the company's watch-mail-wait routine by letting them stream films directly to their computer screens. At the time it was seen as a direct response to Apple's iTunes movie rental service. It was also a hit back at rival Blockbuster, who had just rolled out its "Total Access" plan that allowed members to return mail-order movies to their local brick-and-mortar store instead of having to wait on the postal service for their next flick fix.

The new Netflix service drew a number of complaints, though. The selection has ballooned from the original 1,000 titles to more than 12,000 (and more with today's addition of the Starz deal). And lack of Mac support for the feature raised the hackles of many a loyal Netflix subscriber.

Now that both of those have been addressed, the company is looking less like the infrastructure-entrenched behemoth it once was (see this story on one of their notoriously secretive distribution centers), and more like a major player in the online-video business.

Now, instead of swapping mail-order service discounts with Blockbuster, Netflix looks to have set its sights on cable TV providers' on-demand systems. And with the increasing ubiquity of in-home broadband and pricing that promises unlimited on-demand video for one flat fee, they look to become a big player indeed.

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