How the Netflix Split Affects Consumers

Sep 24, 2011 by

Earlier this week, Netflix announced plans to split its disc and streaming operations into completely separate services, renaming its disc service to Qwikster. This follows a separation (and overall increase) in subscriber fees that went into effect earlier this month. While we have plenty of thoughts and opinions about this move, we’ll leave it to the tech press, the markets, and the blogosphere to analyze this baffling move. Instead, we’ll focus on how this change will likely affect the services that Netflix customers are used to. Of course, we won’t know the specifics until it actually happens, but this will give you an idea of the changes you can expect.

Streaming Customers

If you subscribe to the Unlimited Streaming plan with no DVDs, little will change for you. The streaming service will continue to carry the Netflix name, which is no surprise since the Netflix brand is now plastered on hundreds—if not thousands—of consumer devices.

DVD Customers

DVD subscription customers who do not also have streaming will move completely to the new Qwikster service.
You’ll go to a new web site, qwikster.com. Hopefully, Netflix will move its DVD customers’ accounts to the new service seamlessly, though they may require an explicit confirmation to transfer your account information.
For a premium fee, you’ll also be able to rent games from Qwikster. They’ll be sent to you through the mail just like DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

There’s a distinct possibility that third-party apps allowing you to see or manage your Netflix DVD Queue will cease to function properly.

Streaming + DVD Customers

12 million people—the largest share of Netflix customers—subscribe to both unlimited streaming and DVDs by mail. These customers will be most impacted by the recently announced service changes. They’ll likely experience the same changes as the DVD customers discussed above, but they also stand to lose the most in terms of service benefits.

Netflix has been slowly whittling away at the features previously available to customers of both services. There was a time when titles in your DVD Queue showed up automatically in your Instant Queue. Not anymore. And you can no longer manage your DVD Queue from the consumer devices and apps that enable home or mobile streaming.

What other benefits will Streaming + DVD customers lose?

If you’re looking for a title on Netflix now, you don’t have to care about whether it’s in the disc library or the streaming library—you don’t have to think about it. You just search once, and it will show up if it’s in either. With this split, you’ll have to go to Netflix to see if a title’s available for streaming and to Qwikster to see if that same title is available on disc. If it’s not available on one service, you’ll have to go look for it on the other.

When you find a title on Netflix now, you can add it to your DVD Queue or (if it’s available for streaming) to your Instant Queue. You can also see if it’s in either queue and play it on the spot if it’s part of the streaming library. All this can be accomplished from the information page for any title. In the new model, you’ll only be able to add DVDs to your queue on Qwikster and play or add streaming titles to your Instant Queue on Netflix. Neither service will have access to the other service’s library or queues.

The Netflix DVD Queue lets you know which of the titles in your queue are also available for streaming, and you can play any of them directly from your queue. The new services will likely not let you cross-reference or compare your queues in any way.

Recommendations will be specific to the ratings you’ve provided in each service, since the rating and recommendation engines will likely be unique to both. For example, if you tend to not rate streaming titles after watching, but you do rate discs when you return them, your recommendations for streaming may not reflect your actual viewing interests.

And in Media Center…

At the Digital Media Zone, we recommend Windows Media Center’s Netflix plug-in as one of the best Netflix implementations, and while it is primarily focused on streaming activities, it still offers some visibility into the DVD and Blu-ray libraries and your DVD queue. It’s likely that after the Netflix/Qwikster split occurs, these features will go away—specifically (a) browsing your DVD queue for titles that are available for streaming and (b) searching for titles regardless of whether they’re only available for streaming or on disc.

And of course we’d hope that the transition won’t cause any loss of service in these applications when the split occurs, but at this point, it’s anyone’s guess what’s going to happen.

DVD show in Media Center's Netflix plug-in

Information about DVDs like this one soon won't show up in Media Center's Netflix plug-in

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