Monday, September 19, 2011

Netflix Isn't Netflix

Like the rest of America, I got this in my in-box today:

Dear Jonathan,

I messed up. I owe you an explanation.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn't make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us). So we moved quickly into streaming, but I should have personally given you a full explanation of why we are splitting the services and thereby increasing prices. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.

So here is what we are doing and why.

Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD. DVD is a great option for those who want the huge and comprehensive selection of movies.

I also love our streaming service because it is integrated into my TV, and I can watch anytime I want. The benefits of our streaming service are really quite different from the benefits of DVD by mail. We need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolves, without maintaining compatibility with our DVD by mail service.

So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.

It’s hard to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”. We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, but now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the and websites will not be integrated.

There are no pricing changes (we’re done with that!). If you subscribe to both services you will have two entries on your credit card statement, one for Qwikster and one for Netflix. The total will be the same as your current charges. We will let you know in a few weeks when the website is up and ready.

For me the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of joy. The new envelope is still that lovely red, but now it will have a Qwikster logo. I know that logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard. I imagine it will be similar for many of you.

I want to acknowledge and thank you for sticking with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly.

Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.

Respectfully yours,

-Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO, Netflix

So Netflix is now two companies, Netflix and Qwikster. It's an improvement over the dwindling dvd resources of Netflix; higher prices and less availability for blu-ray, impossible mobile interface for dvds and rising prices that forced me to limit my plan. Hopefully this means Netflix will step up their streaming, filling the glaring holes in their selection and keeping less titles from disappearing. And maybe Qwikster will be a return to the simplicity of classic Netflix.

But from a marketing perspective, this makes every mistake you could make. The rebrand is a bad move. Sure, you want a dedicated staff to handle the discs but why do we have to go to a separate URL? Do it in house, away from the customer and seamless. If you need a separate site for the server load, why ditch the Netflix name? Why not Qwikster says nothing about movies. I honestly thought it was a spreadsheet program.

And then there's the customer ill will. I've been a member for eight years and never had one complaint about the service until recently. If this was the plan all along (and I doubt it was) why not separate the companies first? Then a month or two later raise the price? So then I'm thinking, "Well it is two companies now and I see the extra value. Okay, I'll pay more." Instead it was "we don't have these titles on blu-ray anymore. Now we're raising prices. Now we're cutting functionality. Now we're two companies". You wouldn't keep a personal relationship with someone who jerked you around this much. And the corporate apology isn't helping.

Netflix is one of the only success stories of the past ten years. And they are still successful. This is not a growing pain, this is a teenage meltdown. It reminds me of how AMC is becoming a big network and is using that power to torture its talent. It's distressing that these days there are only two types of companies; ones that can't handle their success and ones that are dying.

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