Media, Technology, and Education


Like all Netflix subscribers, I received an email from Netflix founder Reed Hastings this morning.  I will post my comments on their blog but I also decided to post the my response here.  I’ll follow it with the original email so those of you who have already left the company can see what prompted my response.  The upshot?  Netflix is screwing up again.

First, my response:

Dear Reed,

Although I know that you personally didn’t write this email, I’m going to respond as though you did.  You are making another big mistake.  You are giving the impression with this email that you expect Quikster will go bankrupt and out of business (did you deliberately choose Borders as your example so soon after it’s going out of business?).  I believe the separation of the two websites and therefore, the two queues will simply hasten the demise of your DVD business.  It’s probably too late to stop the forward motion of this separation but just in case it isn’t, I’m writing to you to suggest that you not move forward with that part of your plan.  It has nothing to do with improving customer experiences which is what you should be focusing on right now, especially in the wake of your previous “mistake.”  You seem now to be focused on issues other than your customers and their experience of your company.  If you put customers first, we will stay with you.  If you put the “very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently” first, you will lose us.  I just hope it isn’t already too late.

Cathie LeBlanc

Now, the email from Reed Hastings:

Dear Cathie,

I messed up. I owe you an explanation.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us). So we moved quickly into streaming, but I should have personally given you a full explanation of why we are splitting the services and thereby increasing prices. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.

So here is what we are doing and why.

Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD. DVD is a great option for those who want the huge and comprehensive selection of movies.

I also love our streaming service because it is integrated into my TV, and I can watch anytime I want. The benefits of our streaming service are really quite different from the benefits of DVD by mail. We need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolves, without maintaining compatibility with our DVD by mail service.

So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.

It’s hard to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”. We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, but now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the and websites will not be integrated.

There are no pricing changes (we’re done with that!). If you subscribe to both services you will have two entries on your credit card statement, one for Qwikster and one for Netflix. The total will be the same as your current charges. We will let you know in a few weeks when the website is up and ready.

For me the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of joy. The new envelope is still that lovely red, but now it will have a Qwikster logo. I know that logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard. I imagine it will be similar for many of you.

I want to acknowledge and thank you for sticking with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly.

Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.

Respectfully yours,

-Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO, Netflix

p.s. I have a slightly longer explanation along with a video posted on our blog, where you can also post comments.

Article written by:

I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.

1 Comment


    Nothing in my life has so quickly changed from the best thing in my life to a big disappoint like SOFTWARE. I make that broad sweeping statement about all things “app,” Internet, client-deployed, etc etc. Sometimes the mousetrap really is exactly right the first time. I am so glad that my car, my wardrobe, or my alarm clock do not magically “upgrade” overnight to a format that has to be re-fitted into my life.

    Netflix was a service I needed so badly I had invented it myself with the public library and a spiral notebook in the 1990s. I understand completely why a business could make better margins by not maintaining “hard product” and postage fees. But they do not understand what my viewing needs and desires are, and they never listened.

    I will hold out as long as my queues do, but most days I do not want to watch the limited programming (for a limited time) they make available online. I already have television for that.

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