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The Netflix-Qwikster Debacle

The Netflix-Qwikster Debacle Dan Brooks
When Netflix split up its DVD and streaming services, I was one of the few subscribers who wasn’t totally, insanely outraged. While keeping both services after the split meant a 60% price hike, from $9.99 to $15.98 per month – not insignificant – I still felt it was a pretty good deal. I use Netflix more than anything else entertainment-wise. I use it more on my PS3 than I do actual video games, which are $59.99 a pop; I watch more TV shows on Netflix (streaming and on disc) than I do via my ridiculously expensive cable TV subscription; and I watch more movies on Netflix than I buy or go to see in the theaters, which can be as high as $13 a ticket here in New York. And I’ve also followed the back-and-forth that Netflix has had with movie studios and content providers, who are becoming more and more demanding with rights and rates as streaming becomes more popular. So, I liked Netflix as a company, and I was a little sympathetic to the position it was in.

But the one thing I failed to see was that it wasn’t just the price hike that upset customers, but the haphazard way Netflix handled the announcement. “This is the way it’s gonna be, and you’re gonna like it,” was the message, more or less. And for a company that for so long maintained a perception of being young, understanding, and not-evil, this was a slap in the face. And now, with the bungled unveil of Qwikster – its new DVD division, a separate entity from its streaming business, which will retain the Netflix moniker - they’ve done it again. This time, I get it.

It’s hard to know where to begin in discussing where Netflix went wrong this time. So let’s tackle this in sections.

The name. It’s confusing visually (people are going to be misspelling that thing in search engines for as long as it’s around) and contextually (what exactly does “quick” have to do with snail-mailing DVDs? Isn’t streaming quicker?); it recalls failed internet businesses of the early 2000s like Friendster and Napster; and it completely divorces a key-component of the Netflix brand identity from the brand name.

The announcement. There are all kinds of ways to announce a new product or business, from the boring to the spectacular. There are press releases, trade show keynote events, advertisements – whatever. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new business unveiled at the midway point of an apology email/blog. It was weak and meager, completely unconfident, and confused the actual message of the apology. It’s really head-scratching.

The message. Qwikster will be a whole new website and a whole new business, as Netflix wants to clearly draw a line between streaming and DVD rentals by mail. But what does this mean for customers who kept their subscriptions to both, or will want both in the future? Do we now have to maintain two separate queues on two separate websites, with two separate logins and accounts? This was all very vague, and it makes this new separation seem more inconvenient, not less. In addition, Qwikster will offer videogames, a first for Netflix – but how long before that’s siphoned off to a third company? You know what would be great? A one-stop service that offers streaming and disc-rentals together! Or, what Netflix was 48 hours ago.

Ultimately, I’m still rooting for Netflix. But when a brand you trust makes missteps that are so out-of-sync with what they’ve done before and the reasons you became a loyalist in the first place, it strains the relationship. While I hope Netflix rebounds and rights some wrongs – it may be too late to undo Qwikster, but integration with Netflix seems like the sanest quick fix – the future looks dim.

Dan Brooks is Digital Marketing Associate at Flightpath, a digital agency in New York.

Dan Brooks, a New York University graduate with cum laude honors in Journalism and an MBA in Marketing and Media Management from Fordham University, has had a successful career both in marketing and as a writer. Dan has written about everything from...

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