In our capitalistic society, corporations rule (they are people, you know!). Yet they seem to not understand that in spite of the billions of marketing dollars spent to solidify their place in the marketplace, they are not the brand. Sure, we all know the names Coke or Pepsi…but for most, those are just carbonated beverages, not billion dollar companies. It’s this corporate egotism that can lead to product decisions that are embarrassing for the company, and bad for consumers.
As of May 1, 2013, the Netflix licenses for Warner Bros., MGM, or Universal classic titles have expired and are no longer available on the service. While some are calling the 1,800 title purge as “streamaggedon“, Netflix is stating it is all part of their master plan and not a big deal. But it is a big deal — for Warner Bros.
Earlier this month, Warner Bros. launched Warner Archive Instant, to basically no fanfare. The site looks much like Netflix’s (coincidence?), right down to offering the two week free trial. For two dollars more than Netflix’s monthly streaming cost, you can stream rare and hard to find classic movies…from Warner Bros. and its affiliated companies and licensees. You can watch all you want, which right now amounts to about 122 titles. As they say on their site, more titles are added daily (Translation: we have to wait for Netflix to stop streaming them).
This is a yet another case of corporate egotism. Who says, “I want to go see that brand new movie distributed by the Walt Disney Company”? No one. Instead, “I am so standing in line to see Iron Man 3 and Robert Downey, Jr. in all his muscle-ly yumminess this Friday” is what is being said by thousands of fan girls and boys around the world (though, perhaps, the Robert Downey, Jr. yumminess comments may be limited to women of a certain age. Or just me.).
I could be wrong, but I doubt there are a lot of people wanting to pay $9.99 a month to watch one company’s offerings that are also available on that company’s classic movie cable channels. While Warner Bros. may be filling a niche for cinefiles who wish to have classic movie marathons, they should heed the warning of other major corporations who believed consumers like having their choices limited.
In 2001, the music industry was in a panic about digital distribution. Free services like Napster and Kazaa were becoming the go-to way for fans to consume music new and old. That same year, a guy named Steve Jobs started talking to major labels about a legitimate online distribution service where fans could buy all the music they wanted, either singles or full albums, with the click of a button. They turned him down and instead tried to launch their own online stores, Pressplay and MusicNet (Remember them? Me neither.). Fans balked at the pricey services, which allowed for streaming only and limited to just a few artists on the participating labels. They did, however, earn a place in history as one of the top-ten worst tech products of all time. Launched in 2002, they quickly went by the wayside in 2003. A new-fangled thing called iTunes launched in April of that year.
There is a real possibility that many will not notice the absence of these titles, as Netflix has been earning a reputation for great original programming (House of Cards, Arrested Development), causing a lot of its deeper offerings to be lost in the shuffle. Still, the entertainment industry needs to realize resisting new technologies and limiting how and when people consume their offerings is a recipe for disaster.
Just ask the music industry. What’s left of it, anyway.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore