Netflix "Watch Now"

may 10, 2007

I had the "Watch Now" tab added to my Netflix account a few weeks ago and didn't have any time to tinker with it until today. The "Watch Now" tab is basically Netflix's attempt at bringing video-on-demand to their subscribers. You get as many hours of viewing based on what you pay monthly. On the $20/mo plan? You get 20 hours of videos to watch on demand. It is a great idea, but Netflix's execution is botched. First, the good things. If you fit into Netflix's narrow requirements band, "Watch Now" (or "Instant Watching") works great. You install their small player, pick a movie from a selection of 2,200, and wait between 30 to 60 seconds for the movie to start. Movies play either in your browser window or full-screen, and they look pretty good. On my system (a mere P3/900Mhz with 512MB of RAM sitting on a 3Mbit/s DSL line) things were smooth very watchable. It is a good effort by Netflix. The selection of movies is still debatable.  They have some good old flicks like The Matrix, Sum of All Fears, The Negotiator, and The Italian Job.  But, nothing new -- absolutely no new releases.  The rest of the 2,200 movies consist of bad B-movies and TV shows.  This is the kind of selection that one would watch on a computer and not want to waste a send/receive cycle trying to view via the normal Netflix Postal Mail system. So, how did they botch it up? They require these three things: Windows, IE, and Windows Media Player. Nothing else works. You can't use Windows, Firefox and Windows Media Player. You can't use your Mac. And I am sure someone on the other side laughs when they see "Linux" in the server logs. Sure, Windows, IE and WMP have a huge install base, but look at the bang-up job ABC has done with their video-on-demand site. ABC's video-on-demand site runs based on Flash and can be viewed from any computer running any browser (that has Flash installed) on any OS. The video is sharp (even sharper than Netflix's Instant Viewing) and plays very smooth. They you have Yahoo! Video, YouTube and metacafe.  They all also do videos via an agnostic Flash interface.  It is too bad Netflix went the old skool (Web 1.0) way of tying their service down to a Microsoft platform. That really shows a level of laziness from them. So, Netflix Instant Viewing? Great idea, bad execution. That's unfortunate.