Big Netflix Shakeup Threatens Vision of All-Streaming Future

Doom-and-gloom naysayers have been acting up again recently with predictions about the impending death of Blu-ray and physical media in favor of a future where all home video distribution will be handled by digital streaming. The big developments that happened at Netflix at the end of last week ought to put a damper on some of that enthusiasm.

On Friday, Sony Pictures pulled its movies from the the StarzPlay VoD service that supplies Netflix Instant with recent releases. This means that high-demand titles like ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ can no longer be streamed. A “temporary contract dispute” was cited as the cause of the decision. No doubt, Netflix hopes to resolve the dispute and put those Sony movies back on the service eventually.

Nonetheless, this should serve as a reminder of one of the biggest shortcomings of streaming distribution. Quite simply, the content can disappear at any moment for reasons that might seem arbitrary or capricious to users who simply want to watch the movies. In a blink and with no warning at all, a major Hollywood studio’s entire catalog vanished from the largest streaming provider in the country. And this is hardly an anomaly. Every week here in The Bonus View, our “Netflix Stream” updates list off interesting titles about to be dumped by the service for reasons that typically aren’t even explained at all.

Coupled with the growing problem of bandwidth caps being forced by internet providers across the country, as well as the video and audio quality issues already inherent to even “HD” streaming content, it sure seems to me that there are plenty of good reasons to keep a Blu-ray player and collection of discs in active use.

[Source: Engadget]


  1. Jean-Denis

    Considering that most of the video rental stores where I live in Vancouver, BC have closed within a few months, siting Netflix as a main culprit, this is especially ominous. For years, we’ve lived with the luxury of never having to go far to find almost any movie to watch on impulse. Without it, we’re back in the 70’s!

  2. feels like something is going on behind the scenes. is it time to renew the sony starz deal and starz is pulling the titles as a barging ploy?. or the other way around?. also i do feel that people think these movies are going to be around forever on the site but it is a subscription service , hbo had the beastmaster on years ago. its not on any of their channels now? movies move on. we have new video stores now. we have amazon , blockbuster , vudu. those sites have a great selection of movies on a ppv basis.

  3. javier

    I enjoy my Netflix and Hulu plus accounts but I still greatly prefer my physical media. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing both of these services collapse. Maybe then studios would start putting emphasis on releasing all that content on disc which I could then buy at retail stores again. It’s almost pointless walking into Best Buy to look for movies because the sections have been reduced. There are too many good shows that I would love to own on disc .

    • The forseeable future is a rather vague term. But nobody can deny the fact that eventually physical media will go the way of the floppy. Eventually wireless and broadband access will be everywhere, you can deny it all you want, but that day is rapidly approacing. Considering that twenty years ago, none of this infrastructure existed and we all used dial up should make that fact painfully obvious.

      As high speed networks become more available, wireless will grow and once you can get a fairly easy link to a wireless network in your neighborhood fast enough to stream HD, then competition is really going to heat up.

      Eventually all of the data you depend on will be accessible via every device you have. Apple already does this on a small level and it’s one of the reasons that they are as successful as they are.

      The technical reasons you state are temporary issues, and are the same kinds of problems that face any wide scale adoption of a new technology. As the old guard passes away the new will more rapidly take it’s place. Just talk to any teenager today and ask them about CD’s vs. MP3’s or digital audio, you’ll find that alot of them are already abandoning physical media entirely. It’s one of the reasons that the studios are so scared. The generation currently growing up in this country has grown up getting it, and the corporations are scrambling to catch up. Considering that the writing was on the wall the day that Napster started up, they have only themselves to blame if they are left out in the cold.

      • vihdeeohfieuhl

        The bottom line is this: The quality of streaming content is shit! Plain and simple. There’s nothing more that needs to be said.

        Until lossless 7.1 audio can be streamed with no interruptions or other glitches, and the same can be said for 1080P video, physical media will still be intact.

        Furthermore, just wait until we have televisions and audio equipment capable of even better/higher quality than we have now…

        By the time that streaming content is able to match the audio and video quality of blu-ray — which I highly doubt will ever happen anyway — we will have better video and audio equipment, and a new physical media that offers even higher quality video and audio.

        Physical media is here to stay! People are not going to give up quality for the convenience of streaming!

        Your point about wireless is moot. Wireless is always going to be subject to interruptions or other quality glitches. It is now. It will be in 30 years. There’s simply no way that any discerning audiophile or videophile is going to rely on a wireless connection when trying to get the best possible quality. Moreover, the high majority of regular non-video/audiophile’s/enthusiast’s are never going to want to watch/listen to their favorite films with glitches and interruptions.

        • Completely agree! Wireless is a convienance, not a replacement for the wire. The technology behind radio waves really hasn’t changed much since it was invented. Oh sure, we can boost signal strength, convert to digital, go to different frequency spectrums, and add in checksums to try to overcome the shortcommings with wireless, but the point is, they still exist, and they always will. It has nothing to do with Technology, it is physics. Radio waves are radio waves, no matter what kind of signal you are trying to transmit over them. OTA transmissions and satelite are subsebtable to interfearence from weather patterns, changes on the sun, and interfearence from stars in other solar systems and even other galaxies.

          Shoot, I am working on streaming content to my PS3 in my bedroom from my PC in the other room. The distance is about 20 feet, only one wall between them, and the PC is connected via ethernet to the router. I still get drop outs on SD video, and HD streaming is practically useless. Moving the PS3 from the living room where it was hard-wired to the bedroom, Netflix HD took a quality hit (this is the first time in months that I have seen it readjust the quality based on bandwidth). This has NOTHING to do with technology – its the frequency and power that home consumer electronic wireless devices are required to work on, and they are EXTREAMELY subseptable to outside interfearences.

          Wireless internet services as offered by Clear, Verizon, AT&T and others are even worse. You rarely get the speeds advertised unless you are practically right next to the tower. ANY wireless technolgy is a shared bandwidth, period. No matter how many transmitter towers you put up, no matter how much bandwidth may be going to the tower, what kind of compression algorithims you may develope, and how you play with the signal to give the appearence of more bandwidth, you are still limited by radio waves, and radio waves have a much more finite bandwidth than hard-lines do.

          No, once again, anyone who thinks the whole world is going to go wireless simply doesn’t understand technology. No matter how good technology gets, wireless will ALWAYS have more limited bandwidth than the wire, be more subseptable to interfearence, and have data drop outs. And nothing anyone does or invents or technological advances can rewrite the laws of physics.

          • EM

            Oh, Scotty—just route the signal through subspace! I know it’s impossible—you have twenty minutes.

  4. Ivan Gomez

    Imagine a world where everithing is in the “cloud”, You don´t have access to the sony movies you have purchased for a month because their servers where hacked and your info was compromised and they have to shoot them off to figure out what happened. MGM movies that where on huge discounts last week and you stack on them are now nowhere to be found cause their catalog was sold again to Google orion pictures. An extremist religious group has been boicoting the servers in waco Tx that hold Pixar films due to their distaste in a world where God could be a Model T car creating everithing to look like race cars. And in related news George Loucas made a new change to the very recently added starwars trilogy you just got yesterday but havent watch to make Solo throw a pie on greedos face as he always intended to (greedo by the way has been supplanted by an omaticaya to honor the 3d 10th aniversary of Avatar being avaliable to Panasonic ISP customers.

  5. No offense but you guys usually list things as disappearing that are going away for perfectly valid reasons. When south park was pulled (for all of one day or a week, I can’t remember which) it was replaced with a single item that contains all of the seasons as Netflix restructured how you access multi season shows. There are alot movies that you have stated were going away only to come back a week later or less. I think the problem is the lack of information and netflix has addressed some of these issues such as listing when items are coming to streaming when you search for them. But it’s hard to blame Netflix when it’s entirely the fault of the studios and their money grubbing ways. Yes they deserve to be paid but it’s usually the studio that calls the shots and they are flexing their muscle in order to make Netflix know who’s the boss. I say Netflix should tell them in no uncertain terms that Streaming is the future and if they want to try and build their own SUCCESSFUL streaming system they are more than happy to take their money after it fails. Netflix isn’t a success just because they know how to stream video, anybody with servers and bandwidth can do that. It’s because they have steadily improved the system over the years. I have no doubt that those movies will be back usually with alot more along for the ride. Netflix has 60% of the streaming market and that’s gonna be pretty hard to ignore. What I don’t understand is why these dumbass studios don’t realize that putting stuff everywhere is better than nowhere.

  6. I love streaming – I am a weekly user of Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Demand on my Roku – but here’s my problem with streaming media versus physical media – streaming doesn’t (or hasn’t to date) offer any of those “bells and whistles” I love about Blu-ray. Yes, streaming quality might one day match Blu-ray’s video and audio clarity – but are they going to offer the director’s commentary? The behind the scenes featurettes? All the interactive goodies I get when I purchase physical media? Yes, that COULD be offered via streaming or download, but I’ve seen no studios interested in offering it yet.

    That said, I think physical media IS on the way out, but will still remain a niche market – much in the same way CDs have been for those who don’t own or don’t want to download albums directly to their Ipod, phone or MP3 player. I just hope, as movie fans, we don’t find ourselves back in the “VHS years” when all you could see at home was the movie – with no commentaries, suppliments or deleted footage. I would HATE to go back to the days of where renting/buying a movie meant that’s all you got…just the movie.

  7. yeah i’m not sold on physical media is dead notion. there is this thing called the internet and sure it has streaming video but you can also go to a site and purchse a flick or t.v. show and depending on the site you can get it next day for very little. also if the studios put more promotion for the MOD program people will know about it and start to order their favorites and or we can get a obscure movie and or t.v. show and they get to make money which we all like to do. 🙂

  8. Patrick A Crone

    It’s interesting that this article comes after a weekend of both internet and Netflix outages(It’s unavalible on my PS3 as I write this). It goes to show that streaming is only as good as the people that provide it. I love Netflix. Ever since they began streaming on gaming platforms I’ve been hooked. But with the limitations of service and bandwidth I’d be hard pressed to give up physical media. Barring an actual hardware problem, I never have to worry about a movie being interupted because of service issues. If I could make one suggestion it would be that studios would allow you to burn movies onto the hard drives of gaming and streaming devices. I think my Xbox 360 has lasted so long because I’ve loaded most of my games on the HDD and cut down on wear and tear of the optical drive.

  9. I find it funny that everyone so far that has replied has skipped over the fact that ISPs are adding more and more caps across the country (in the US), Canada is already capped and Netflix had to add streaming quality options up there because people just arent allowed the bandwidth, some people are lucky and have no cap and can do whatever, but imagine if everything goes the way of the internet and you can download and own your favorite movies without leaving the house or stream whatever you dont care about, 3/4 of the country will be hitting their bandwidth cap in no time, if owning a movie is like owning MP3s, downloading a few good quality (and only good quality) HD films will start and most likely fill up that bandwidth super fast and as time goes on, more and more caps are being enforced, cut back on, etc. Data plans for Cell phones are charging you more for less and limiting your data usage, this is going to keep happening people so HOW is streaming or changing from Physical Media ever going to happen if this keeps up the way it is?

  10. Lahrs

    Upgrading to Blu-ray was a no brainer, but when it came to replacing my DVD collection, I had to seriously consider which movies were worth the repurchase, and which were just fine staying on DVD. Now I find myself in a similar position with Netflix, which movies must I always have at my fingertips, and which ones I am fine having occasional access to (or any access at all). So far this has worked out well for me. I only have 100 Blu-ray titles, but in my opinion, they are the good ones. I still find it a bit frustrating at times when a movie I have in my queue, one I had been anticipating to watch, is all of a sudden removed without much warning, but it is just a limitation I have to accept for my $7.95 a month. On that note, I always appreciate your this forums posts on which movies are about to be removed, it has saved me a lot of disappointment.

    I am lucky and currently do not have any bandwidth caps. I have no idea how much bandwidth is being used while we play our online games, but I do stream a lot of movies so a future cap is always a concern.

    • motorheadache

      Same here. I actually created self-imposed rules on replacing a DVD I own with a Blu-Ray to make sure I don’t spend too much money double-dipping.

      I also get annoyed at the limited amounts of time Netflix has certain titles– I usually check my Que every couple of days to see if a warning comes up on any of the titles.

      Also, my internet connection isn’t the best, it’s a fairly low speed for broadband, so I usually don’t get HD quality video. Usually the video steadies on medium to high SD. So I pretty much watch streaming movies/shows on my older tube set via my Nintendo Wii. Usually I only use it for titles that aren’t available on Blu-Ray.

  11. Brian H

    I have to look at the PS3( and to a lesser extent the psp) as encapsulating the state of digital media. The blu ray format size utilized for PS3 games makes digital downloads of PS3 games a rarity, bandwidth and hard drive space being a limiter. Of course the PS3 also manages Netflix, Hulu and the PSN store (not to mention dlna streaming).

    For PS3 games though, the physical copy often involves an install, a patch, a console locked save, an internet connected psn account, etc. Unfortunately, some of the features for blu ray movies require patching as well. Anyone familiar with the Sunshine blu ray issue on the PS3 will know how even staying patched can be a problem. These issues greatly cheapen the value of the physical copy.

    People have mentioned that Cds are still being bought in a niche market, but I think blu rays are looking toward a future more akin to vinyl.
    Steam and iTunes are the digital model. Netflix has some of the flaws that premium movie channels have. Without HBO’s original content, most viewers aren’t interested in seeing the same few movies over and over and in poor quality. Where Netflix has shined is in offering on demand tv shows- a model that is more attractive than cable subscriptions.

    Managing discs and discs of tv shows has never been a great experience. Especially on easily scratched dvds. Meanwhile, for a variety of reasons, shows have been released on DVD and Netflix that will never be on blu ray.

    While I think Netflix could be successful producing original content the way that HBO and other non-censored and commercial-ed channels have, right now they need to keep getting enough
    content. Netflix landed the Star Trek shows, Cheers, among others.

    If the content providers get serious with Hulu, it will probably crush Netflix.