Category Archives: TV

Netflix. Redefining Television.

Netflix is changing the way we think about television: What we watch. When we watch it. And, most importantly, how we watch it.

Its movie-suggestion service makes Netflix more than a streaming-video company; it makes it your streaming-video company, fine-tuned to your tastes.

This post concerns Netflix and how it is re-defining television — based on my experiences with the video-streaming and video-rental service for the last ten months, during which time I’ve been without any cable subscription.

INTRO AND PERSONALIZATION

With more than 20 million subscribers and counting, as of January, 2011, Netflix is becoming quite a player in the video-on-demand world. In fact, according to the company, it’s the world’s leading Internet subscription service. From 2009 to 2010, Netflix increased its subscription base by more than 4.5 million. At that pace, in 2011, Netflix will easily become the nation’s leading  video service offline as well. Comcast is currently the nation’s largest at 22.8 million subscribers.

“With more than 20 million members in the United States and Canada, Netflix, Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) is the world’s leading Internet subscription service for enjoying movies and TV shows. For $7.99 a month, Netflix members can instantly watch unlimited movies and TV episodes streaming over the Internet to PCs, Macs and TVs. Among the large and expanding base of devices streaming from Netflix are Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PS3 consoles; an array of Blu-ray disc players, Internet-connected TVs, home theater systems, digital video recorders and Internet video players; Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, as well as Apple TV and Google TV. In all, more than 200 devices that stream from Netflix are available in the U.S. and a growing number are available in Canada. For more information, visit www.netflix.com.” Source: Netflix

As far as content is concerned, Netflix is hard to beat. Starz alone supplies about 2,500 pieces, split evenly between movies and TV titles. That’s nearly identical to content offerings from Starz to Comcast and DirecTV, per Hollywood Reporter.

Other major content providers for Netflix include Time Warner, Fox, Epix, Relativity and NBC Universal.

What started as a DVD-by-mail service has transformed into a streaming super-power. Streaming content for Netflix is an estimated 20,000 titles (and counting). And it’s all available to watch instantly on your TV, laptop, PC or mobile device.

Oh, and they’ve got around 100,000 titles on DVD, available by-mail in about two days.

All you’ve got to do is pick a plan, starting at $7.99 per month with streaming. Users can change or cancel their subscription at any time. No early cancelation fees here.

Netflixers can choose from a number of subscription options:
  1. Streaming Only – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $7.99 per month
  2. Streaming Plus One DVD out at-a-time – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $9.99 per month
  3. Streaming Plus Two DVDs out at-a-time – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $14.99 per month
  4. Streaming Plus Three DVDs out at-a-time – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $19.99 per month
  5. Streaming Plus Four DVDs out at-a-time – Watch Instantly Unlimited – $27.99 per month
  6. DVD-only option – One DVD out at-a-time, 2 DVD-per-month maximum by mail – $4.99 per month (plus 2 hours of streaming to a PC)
Blu-ray Option: Netflix subscribers have access to some 1,000 Blu-ray titles for an additional $3 per month, on any plan including DVDs by mail. Netflix offers other plans, up to eight DVDs at-a-time for $55.99 per month.

I’m on plan 3, Unlimited Streaming and two DVDs by mail at-a-time for $14.99 per month. My wife and I each select one DVD at a time and we can watch Netflix Streaming whenever we want on any TV in our house (thanks to Playstation 3, Wii and our Sony Blu-ray player, which are all connected to Netflix) or online. When we’re done with one DVD, we send it back in the mail, with the provided and prepaid red envelope. The next title in our online queue arrives in about two or three days. In plans 2 through 5 above (my numbering system, not from Netflix), users can rent as many DVDs by mail per month as there free time can allow. There is no maximum number of titles per month, as there is in option 6, with a max of two DVDs per month for $4.99/mo.

My DVD queue, showing what 2 DVDs I currently have ‘out’, and then the next in line. From a library of 100,000+. Titles can be shifted up or down and new titles can be added at any time.

Personalization: You’re gonna like this…

Maybe the best part of Netflix, after the content of course, is its Suggestions for You.

Can you imagine your TV or Cable Box saying, “Hey there, noticed you enjoyed ‘House, M.D. yesterday. I think you might like ‘The Mentalist.‘”

Welcome to Movie Suggestions from Netflix. Similar to Pandora’s music selection, Netflix suggests movies you’ll like based on your ratings and ratings from others who have similar tastes in movies, as well as information from your Taste Preferences.

1. Movie Ratings

“Netflix has more than 3 billion movie ratings from members. The average  member rated more than 200 movies. Netflix members rate about four million movies a day.” -Netflix Press Kit

Users can rate movies they’ve seen in and out of Netflix. Users are able to view movies, and then rate them on netflix.com, in the following categories: all genres or in 14 genres individually. They are: Action & Adventure; Animation; Anime; Children & Family; Comedies; Documentaries; Dramas; Foreign; Horror; Independent; Musicals; Sci-Fi & Fantasy; TV Shows; and Thrillers. Users rate movies on a scale of one to five stars.

TV Shows and Movies that I can rate on a scale of one to five (stars). At the time of this screenshot, I had rated 362 titles. Now I’ve scored more than 500 titles.

I’ve rated some 530 movies & TV shows to this point. I’ve also noticed, the more movies I rate, the closer the suggestions are getting to my actual tastes.

Speaking of tastes…

2. Taste Preferences

Netflix has 13 Taste Preferences that users can fill out to let Netflix know what types of movies they like. Basically, 13 preference categories. They are, specifically: moods, genres, qualities, storylines, release date (decades), sub genres, languages, children’s age, sports & fitness, music, story source, cultures and special interest.

Each preference category contains around 40 questions. That’s more than 500 ways to detect your taste in movies and TV. Which leads me to believe Netflix knows me better than my wife.

This screenshot displays Taste Preferences, one of 13 different preference categories. Each category contains around 40 questions. That’s more than 500 ways to detect your taste in movies and TV.

On the Netflix.com dashboard, under the “Suggestions for You” tab, lies “Taste Preferences.” This questionnaire allows users decide how often they watch movies of that particular genre: 1) Never; 2) Sometimes or 3) Often. Above I’ve displayed my rankings for the Genre category.

Netflix uses this information (Movie Ratings and Taste Preferences) to fine-tune its movie and TV suggestions. I’ve notice the more titles I rate, the better it gets at determining what I’ll like.

Its movie-suggestion service makes Netflix more than a streaming-video company; it makes it your streaming-video company, fine-tuned to your tastes.

Sources: Netflix.com, Reuters.com, HollywoodReporter.com, Cape Cod Times, Netflix.com Press Kit http://cdn-0.nflximg.com/us/pdf/Consumer_Press_Kit.pdf

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Consumer Electronics Show…CES

Tomorrow’s gadgets, games and mind-blowing media, introduced today at the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, CES.

The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, CES, was held Jan. 6 through Jan. 9 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Showcasing the next best things in every conceivable category, with some 2,500 media companies on display, CES gives us a look into the future. From the next DROID (the Droid Bionic), to the Porsche 918 RSR, the 767hp hybrid to Samsung’s flexible (and shatter-proof) mobile displays, then the weird…like the “eTime Home Endoscope.” As PC World puts it, “Finally–a way to peer into your loved ones’ mouths and ears, putting their orifices on display in a live computer video feed.”

Two trends to keep an eye on: 1) Music, particularly how we listen to radio at work, in the car and at home; 2) Television. I predict a big change in 2011 in the way we watch TV. We’ve already experienced the start of it with Netflix, Hulu, GoogleTV, Boxee Box, etc and devices like SlingBox, which slings your paid content to other sets and devices outside of your home. But I think this trend will explode in 2011 or early 2012. TV isn’t dead, it’s just evolving, and its audience is becoming fragmented.

Here are a few CES announcements I found noteworthy (and one or two I just found, well, strange)…

1) Toyota Entune infotainment system

Toyota Entune infotainment system hands-on

The Entune infotainment system incorporates navigation, media and entertainment into your dash via smartphone integration. Basically, it syncs applications from your smartphone (be it iPod, Droid or Blackberry) and displays the apps (like Pandora) on the dash. Including Bing search, MovieTickets.com, navigation, and music services like Pandora and iheartradio. Toyota has announced that some of these features are disabled while the vehicle is in motion (forcing you to fumble around on the tiny screen of your Blackberry instead, perhaps).

Entune is due on “select models” sometime this year.

2). Samsung GoogleTV Box and SmartTV platform

Television doesn’t live in box anymore. Well, it still kind of does, but that box is hooked up to the Internet. Connecting our HDTV sets to the world wide web syncs our Televisions to an array of programming and applications. Programming like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Vudu as well as applications (apps) that vary depending on the manufacturer, product and model. Samsung’s apps include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pandora, Blockbuster, ESPN, AP, USAToday, Yahoo!, Skype, and many more, all on your TV.

And good for us, everyone’s getting in on the act. From Apple to Zenith.

3. Motorola Xoom Tablet

Tablets melt the Web, Books and TV into one mobile device that goes where you go. Motorola Xoom is the latest, which utilizes the Android operating system, and includes the the first dual-core processor.

When will PS3, Xbox, Wii incorporate Internet TV?

Netflix and Hulu Plus have both taken advantage of the internet connectivity of videogame systems — Sony’s Playstation 3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii (still waiting on Hulu for Wii) — when it comes to streaming video content on our TV’s.

But when will Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo enter the game themselves? Doing so would offer another bit of differentiation, another perk for owners of each console. It might also further shift the demographics from what was once a teen obsession – playing videogames – to what is becoming a family pastime.

Of the current generation of systems, more than 162 million units have been sold. But neither is personally taking advantage of its online content or users.

Playstation has a subscription service, called “Playstation Plus” that offers game discounts, game demos and free offerings; but no streaming movies or tv episodes. There are options to purchase such episodes, like “A Colbert Christmas,” a special for the Holidays at $6.99. Colbert dubs it as the “Greatest Gift of All.” That’s about as VOD as it gets for PS3.

So Playstation obviously has a desire to attract monthly subscribers. That is the point to its Playstation Plus. One year will cost you $49.99, or you can try a three-month subscription for $17.99.

That works out to a little over $4 per month for the one-year plan. With both Netflix (for the streaming-only option) and Hulu Plus at $7.99 per month, if Sony were to include streaming videos its Playstation One membership, I’d have to believe more owners would take advantage.

[Vudu is a VOD service, acquired by Walmart in 2010. Vudu offers movie rentals, like an online version of a video-rental store. Today’s Pay-per-view. There is no subscription available. Vudu is also available through Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii.]

To this point, Playstation, Xbox and Wii have been sitting on the sidelines, watching other services take advantage of their systems. Fight back, I say! Game on!

Xbox 360 has a subscription plan as well, two tiers actually, in the same price line as Playstation Plus. Xbox is doing a better job with streaming features, as part of their plan includes ESPN content, streamed to your TV. I have a Playstation 3 and a Wii in my household, but no Xbox. I also have a Sony Blu-ray Player. And my Roku Digital Video Player is on the way.

  • Before we see PS3, Wii or Xbox 360 offering streaming movies or TV episodes, watch for systems to develop internet applications or apps. How about Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo apps, available via free download? That’s probably the first move for any system. Sony already has apps on its line of Blu-ray Players (free with purchase), as do every other manufacturer of Blu-ray or Media Players. I won’t even get into those… GoogleTV, Roku, Boxee Box, Sony, Vizio…all have their own set of  internet “apps” like Fandango, Amazon Video on-demand, Rhapsody, WikiTV, Vudu, Pandora, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Revision 3, the Weather Channel or Yahoo News, Sports, Weather (a sample of Vizio Internet Apps). Or take Roku, which offers many of the same apps as Vizio, but adds NHL, MLB, UFC, Mp3 Tunes, Break.com, NASA, Flixster. My point is, each media player is offering its own set of internet apps, all free with the purchase of a player. Why not offer these on the consoles themselves? Playstation Apps, Xbox Apps, Wii Apps… Nintendo’s Wii has a version of this, which it calls “Channels” on the main screen. (As far as I’m aware, the Wii Channels have remained relatively the same since their launch.) Xbox has its ESPN internet app/channel. But this is as close as any are getting to developing their own applications.

In addition to Movies and TV shows, these systems could offer rentals of their own games, possibly within the same subscription plan or on a tiered plan.

That would merge these two successful methods of video and game rentals: Netflix and Gamefly.

Gamefly is a game-rental service, currently available only by mail, no on demand. But the vidoegame systems are already capable of game downloads via the internet. You can purchase full games or game demos without a disc.

To be fair, Blockbuster recently announced a change to its by-mail rental service: they are now offering movies and games by mail.

If Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are do this, the time is now. By implementing streaming video and/or Internet apps and possibly Games on Demand (GOD?) to boot, they’d have a great shot at competing with services like Netflix and Hulu Plus on their consoles, and could really take a chunk out of game services like Gamefly and Blockbuster.

It’s been clear since Xbox (the first go-around) that videogame systems are attempting to become not only a source of gaming, but a part of our entire home entertainment system. Implementing Internet TV is the next logical move.

As of the second quarter of 2010, Sony has sold 41.6 million Playstation 3 units. Xbox 360 tops out at 44.6 in the same time period. And Nintendo Wii, 75.9 million. For a grand video-game total  (among PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii) of 162.1 million and counting…

Who will be the first to fully embrace streaming content or Internet apps?

Because it’s going to happen, and whichever is the first to act will only begin the next trend in video games and possibly home entertainment as we know it.

Messages to Microsoft’s PR firm Waggener Edstrom were not returned by press time. Sony Computer Entertainment US R&D could not be reached for comment. And Nintendo Communications PR, well, didn’t answer our phone call.

Links of interest
Netflix: http://www.netflix.com/Default?loms=abcd&mqso=80001347
Hulu Plus: http://www.hulu.com/plus
Gamefly: http://www.gamefly.com/Features/HowItWorks/
Blockbuster: https://www.blockbuster.com/signup/m/plan

UPDATE: Amazon has announced that its Amazon Prime membership (a little over $3/month for free 2-day shipping) will now include a library of TV shows to stream to your TV.

Life without cable TV

I’ve been without cable TV service since April of 2010. No DirecTV, No Dish, No Comcast, No nothing.

But I’m watching more television shows and movies than ever before. With Netflix and Hulu Plus.

With Netflix, $8.99 per month, I’m watching TV shows like The Office, Californication, Lie to Me, 30 Rock, Weeds, American Pickers, Family Guy and others. From the first episode of the season to the last. On my schedule.

I also just picked up a subscription to Hulu Plus, an additional $7.99 per month.

Netflix offers a much larger library and has nearly every title that Hulu Plus carries, but Hulu Plus lets me watch current seasons of shows like Glee, Saturday Night Live, The Soup, The Office, 30 Rock, House, Family Guy and Lie to Me. Again, these are just the shows I’m watching.

With Netflix and Hulu Plus I’m watching more shows and movies than ever before. It’s more productive TV viewing. Instead of surfing channels, I pick exactly what I want to watch on my schedule.

All of this makes me wonder. What is “TV”? Is it a service? Or is it the product, the show, the movie or even the network?

Is today’s “TV” the distribution vehicle or the product delivered?

I believe TV should be viewed as the product. But right now we’re paying for the distribution vehicle: the provider. Like Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, Windstream, etc.

There’s a shift occurring. TV is changing from the provider to the product.

The DirecTV vs. Dish battle has increased in intensity within the last few years. In the next five to 10 years it will become far less important which vehicle we use to get our content.  Because these new services are taking advantage of what consumers already have: HD TVs, Internet-connected sets and high-speed wireless internet.

And new services and boxes are popping up every week. Hulu Plus, Google TV, Boxee Box, Orb TV and more. And the pricing is starting as low as $7.99 per month. That’s a win for consumers.

What we’re witnessing is not the end of TV but its future. And I’m happy to be an early adopter.