It’s the Content Providers, Silly.

I hate to pick on Lex Friedman over at Macworld as he’s generally a smart guy, but in his opinion piece on the recent Netflix changes he misses the point in a way that is all too common. In bemoaning the customer unfriendliness of Netflix transmogrifying itself into separate streaming and disc-mailing websites Lex states:

There is no customer benefit to these two sites not talking to each other. None. The Netflix/Qwikster split will only makes things worse for Netflix’s customers.

I agree, splitting the current Netflix service into two sites is a pain in the ass for consumers, but when I see comments like that I see a gaping blind spot in the collective vision of the tech press and punditocracy. Namely the role that the content providers play in shaping the policies of their distribution “partners.”

Consider this list of similar questions / complaints that have been voiced through the years:

The answers to these questions, and I believe the driving force behind the Netflix changes all involve one group: the content providers. The tech press sometimes seems to think that distributors like Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Redbox, Blockbuster, etc. just pull this content magically out of their asses. They ignore the fact that there are powerful movie studios and record labels that are obsessed with maintaining control over their product distribution and are scared shitless over digital distribution. How soon we forget that a major Netflix content provider, Starz, recently told Netflix to piss up a rope and took their ball home.

While the Netflix changes are certainly annoying, and the messaging was less than stellar, we need to make sure to remember where the blame ultimately lies — with the content providers. Until they decide to get with the program content distributors like Netflix and Apple will always be at their mercy and customers will continue to suffer.

Nonetheless, “Qwikster” is a stupid fucking name.

ps: This is a pretty good article on why Netflix’s streaming business is fundamentally different from their disc-mailing business, and why it’s very possible that they’re being forced into this.