When I was in middle school, I spent many a Friday and Saturday night at the Commack Multiplex. My parents would drive me to the theater, I’d meet a handful of friends, we’d sit in creaky, gum-covered seats with our feet glued to sticky floors covered in soda and God knows what bodily fluids, play Street Fighter II in the lobby and embarrassingly slink into my parents’ car when they picked me up.
(Dear Mom and Dad: For all the times I made you drop me off at the far end of the parking lot or behind the theater, I am so sorry.)
The Commack Multiplex hasn’t changed—it is still a breeding ground for new diseases and a great place to find used condoms. But fewer people are seeing movies in theaters: In 1930, 80 million people went to the movies each week; in 2000, 27.3 million did. There are plenty of reasons why attendance trended down for those 70 years, but one of the biggest is surely the prevalence of TV. Why leave the couch when the entertainment is in the living room?
Netflix is quickly becoming the next nail in the coffin. In the 11 years since its subscription service started, more than 1 billion DVDs inside Netflix-branded envelopes have landed in mailboxes, like an endless stream of bullets into brick-and-mortar rental shops like Hollywood Video—filed for bankruptcy—and Blockbuster—preparing to file for bankruptcy. (UPDATE: And what do you know, not even 24 hours after I wrote it, the ‘buster is filing for Chapter 11. And to think, I was just getting around to returning my copy of Jerry Maguire.)
If there’s one thing standing in the way of every mailbox on your street being stuffed with red Netflix envelopes, it’s, well, the envelopes. Sure, Netflix saves you trips to the rental store, but you still have to wait for the disc to show up.
Enter: STREAMING. Movies, delivered to your device of choice, instantly.
Why require a physical disc? That would mean subscribers would have to get off the couch and go to the mailbox. Thousands would have a heart attack doing that amount of exercise, and then who’s going to watch all the movies?
Netflix’s already ballooning business took off like a rocket with a cinder block on the gas pedal when it added unlimited streaming, dubbed “Watch Instantly,” to all its subscribers gratis. A healthy list of devices support the service: Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad; the Xbox360, PlayStation 3 and Wii; set-top boxes from Boxee, Western Digital and Roku; nearly every TiVo (EXCEPT MY BROKEN ONE); a wide range of Internet-connected Blu-ray players and TVs; and all PCs and Macs.
Right now, you can stream a big chunk of Netflix’s more than 100,000 movies—but not all of them. It’s mostly new releases that get blocked out of the Watch Instantly group, and that’s probably the result of studios clinging to first-day DVD sales.
The movie-rental business made the jump from stores to streaming, and Netflix is making a boatload of money as a result—its stock price during the 2002 IPO was $15 and as of this Wednesday was trading at more than $156. By extension, studios are making a pretty penny too, as Netflix signs multi-year agreements to stream their films.
Now think about this: How many times have you wanted to see a movie in theaters, but didn’t have time, or it wasn’t playing at a theater near you, or you weren’t in the mood to sit on seats with springs and year-old popcorn kernels coming out of them? Wouldn’t it be great if you could walk all the way to your living room and watch whatever came out in theaters that weekend?
There’s no way this isn’t something that has crossed the minds of Hollywood execs. They spend millions on advertising theatrical releases because they want you to see The Fast and The Furious 71 immediately. And as Netflix’s userbase—currently at 15 million members, according to its website—grows, the ability to reach a huge audience through one service becomes more and more plausible.
So when I have kids in middle school, what will a weekend movie night consist of? Me, driving them to a friend’s house, where that friend’s parents will make them food, or they’ll order in something. They will start the movie whenever they want to, pause it for bathroom breaks or to replay a scene, and maybe just pass out at the house. Everyone wins: They get an infinitely more enjoyable movie experience; I don’t have to drop them off down the street.
Follow me on Twitter! | Twitter.com/BradPareso
For a corporation, Netflix has a pretty active, actually good Twitter—industry news, company news and just good-to-know information. One thing I need, though, is to instantly tweet what movie I’m watching. When I queue up The Land Before Time, people need to know!