Ever since the Netflix watch-instantly service became available for the Mac OS, I've been browsing the movie and TV selections and watching things here and there. I'm already a Netflix subscriber so it's sort of like free movies, but even so, I think I'm going to stay away for a while until the service improves.
Here's the deal: when I select a movie to view, it opens a player (I had to install the Microsoft Silverlight app for my browser first) that says it's checking my internet connection and loading the movie. Then, if I wait a few seconds before playing the film, I can watch a few minutes of the movie before my progress watching catches up to the pre-loaded media and I get a red screen again telling me my internet connection has "slowed." (I know that this is not actually the case because I can test my connectivity independently.) Then I wait (sometimes a minute or even two) while a progress bar fills to 100 percent; finally, I can watch for another five or ten minutes before the whole thing happens again.
But unlike other in-browser video players (like YouTube), I can't just wait for the whole thing to load before I hit "play" because it will only load the next few minutes at a time.
I'm actually typing this post while I'm waiting for Netflix to load the next chunk of Helvetica. This is as far as the loading movie will go. . .
I can sit here all day and it will not load more than that until I play through it and hit the point it's loaded to. I've tried this at home and at work, where my net connection is very fast.
You know what's even better? If I switch to a different Firefox tab while it's preloading the movie, it stops loading. It only works while I have that tab open!
All of this is part of the player design. There is no technical reason why it has to suck — they crafted it this way on purpose. Why? I'm assuming because in some Microsft or Netflix lawyer's brain, it's somehow helping to prevent piracy. That's probably also the reason that the video quality is so teh suck — to prevent anyone from wanting to make copies and sell them.
But here's the thing: I'm already a paid subscriber, and I don't want to use their lame service anymore. It's literally easier for me to pirate these movies than it is to watch them on the service I'm paying for. They've made it that bad.
I watch "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" on FOX.com every week in gorgeous high definition without any hiccups. There is no need for me to resort to piracy because the player works really well right away (without an install), the picture and sound are fantastic, and the commercial breaks are filled with just one 30-second spot each (and only sometimes). The path of least resistance to "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" is the official, sanctioned-by-the-content-owners path. If I had to pirate the show, it would be more of a headache for me, despite avoiding the 30-second ads.
This is the lesson content providers need to absorb. Most A/V pirates are just trying to see/hear stuff they like. Give them a painless, cheap, free or ad-supported way to see/hear the content and that's the route the fans will take to get to it. This explains iTunes' success to a large degree. They made it REALLY EASY and IT WORKS (issues with DRM and pricing notwithstanding).
Epic fail, Netflix.
x-posted at Candleblog