I’ve always rooted long and hard for Netflix. No industry is more ripe for innovation than television (and movies, for that matter), and no company has ever been better poised to overthrow the titans of stagnation known as cable companies.
Think for a second about the progress made in the past decade in the PC, mobile, music, and general computing sectors. To think of erasing the past ten years of innovation seems unthinkable.
Now, think about the innovations made by your cable company in the same period. By and large, there has been no progress: the experience is almost identical to the experience of ten, even twenty years ago. Cable boxes are a joke. Channel selection is worse than ever (how many times have you heard — or said yourself — “all these channels and nothing to watch”?).
Cable reminds me a bit of the coal industry. They see the disruption coming, and instead of adapting, they simply do their best to thwart the attempts of others to further the industry. Simply put, they stifle innovation.
DirecTV is perhaps the least culpable, but that’s not saying much. Remember the Viacom debacle?
Now, in that instance, the blame largely belonged with the content provider (Viacom). Essentially, DirecTV needs to purchase channels from Viacom, who insisted that they also purchase channels no one watched in order to provide their customers with the good stuff (Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, etc). This is more a case in point than a reason to let DirecTV off the hook: the entire industry is stagnant because so much power resides in the hands of so few companies, be they content providers or content delivery mechanisms like satellite or cable companies.
Hulu has made a somewhat admirable attempt at improving the customer experience of media delivery, but being owned by the same companies that are part of the problem, it has largely failed to deliver a good customer experience.
Netflix, on the other hand, prides itself on putting the customer first. Their business, in fact, is built around that concept: give the customer what they want, and the customer will pay. They’ve attached their success directly to the experience. What other media company can make that claim?
House of Cards is Netflix’s latest attempt to deliver a superior experience. They’re betting big on it, having sunk $100 million into the original show. If it succeeds, it may just be the finger that topples the first domino in the power shift of video delivery, allowing Netflix and others to more aggressively pursue ventures like it.
Imagine more of this: paying a minimal subscription fee to watch high-quality television when and where you want. The entire show is available to you whenever and wherever you want, whether you want to watch season two on your phone or season one on your TV (or both).
Compare that experience with, say, The Walking Dead or anything on HBO.
Watching The Walking Dead requires a cable or satellite subscription for, say, ninety bucks a month. The price tag is there for a reason, of course: you simply can’t order one show: you must pay for it all in order to get to those few shows that you watch.
And what if you’re late to the party? What if you’ve never seen the show, but once it gets into the third season, you decide you want to give it a shot? Good luck- you still need Netflix for that. Miss last week’s episode and forgot to record it? Tough.
HBO has some of the best programming the small screen has ever seen- but good luck accessing it without a cable subscription. In fact, you have to pay an additional fee on top of the cable or satellite subscription. (I must note that HBO does offer HBO Go, allowing you to watch its programming on most any internet-connected device, but you still must pay for an insane amount of superfluous programming to take advantage of it, as it’s not available without a cable or satellite subscription).
The web has changed the way most media is delivered: great music, journalism, and a lot more is available at our fingertips when and how we want it.
If we want our television experience to catch up, we’d better hope Netflix’s $100 million bet pays off.