By now, most Netflix subscribers have seen the news, and it's not good. Depending on your plan and how you use the service, rates are going up by as much as 60 percent. The big change is that streaming video is being removed from the company's original DVD-by-mail programs. Instead, if you want streaming video you'll need to pay for a separate $7.99 per month subscription. While the cost of the disc-only plans are going down a little as well, the net result for someone, for example, on the current 1-disc-at-a-time program that also uses Netflix streaming will be an increase from $7.99 to $15.98 per month, or from $9.99 to $17.98 for those who also have access to Blu-ray Discs. Nice.
Netflix hears from its subscribers
To say that most Netflix subscribers are less than pleased would be an understatement. Netflix's official blog hosts thousands of comments on the news -- and the overwhelming majority of those are negative. At last look, Netflix's Facebook page has over 40,000 comments as well, and the number keeps going up and up. According to CNET, many have been "liking" the Netflix Facebook page only so they could register their displeasure. CNET adds that "Dear Netflix" is a top trending topic on Twitter.
Pundits have been having their say as well. Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic lists "7 Reasons Why Netflix's Price Hike Is a Bonehead Move." Besides the obvious ones, he opines that in the end, it could wind up hurting Netflix's bottom line if enough people decide that the sometimes less-than-compelling content that makes up the bulk of the service's streaming line up are just not worth the extra cost. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal at PC World simply says "You've Gotta Be Kidding Me!" regarding the price hike. She, too, notes the streaming content shortfall and says, "The problem is that Netflix's streaming video service just can't cut it."
Not everyone is on the same page, however ... or are they? Writing for Forbes, Brian Caulfield says everyone should "stop whining" about the increase. His reasoning is that the higher price might be the only thing that saves Netflix streaming -- assuming that it leads to better content. "The crappy little corner DVD rental place run by the toothless lady and her gimpy cat has a better selection," he adds.
Some Netflix alternatives
Okay, you're mad as heck and don't want to take it anymore, but are there any practical alternatives? Sure there are, though not all will necessarily save you money or be any more convenient then sticking with Netflix.
Amazon Prime is a, ahem, prime example. In terms of overall content, Amazon Prime is dwarfed by Netflix. But still, with around 6,000 TV shows and movies to choose from, most still should find plenty to watch. The chief downside is that the selection has the same flavor as Netflix -- that is mostly lesser movie titles and past season rather than current season TV programming. The upside is cost. The streaming movie service is a free benefit of Amazon Prime membership, which gives Amazon.com customers free two-day shipping of purchases, regardless of how small. The cost for Amazon Prime is $79 a year, which breaks out to just under $6.60 a month -- not too bad a deal if you are a frequent Amazon.com shopper.
At $7.99 a month, Hulu Plus costs the same as Neflix's new streaming plan, but the line up of programming is considerably different. TV is where Hulu Plus shines; while Netflix offers mainly past season programming, Hulu Plus has a good selection of current season programs soon after they originally air. The movie selection is more limited, but movie buffs might be impressed with the availability of art house fare, including titles from The Criterion Collection. The site also recently inked a deal to stream films released by Mirimax. One downside is that while Netflix does not add commercials to its programming, some limited commercials (usually before or after a presentation) are part of Hulu Plus's content.
If you still want physical discs, finding a better alternative than Netflix is a little more of a challenge. Blockbuster is Netflix's traditional rival, but that company's financial struggles have been pretty well documented; the company was bought out of bankrupcy by Dish Network this past spring. Additionally, the cost of Blockbuster's disc-by-mail rental plans are on a par with those from Netflix, and in some cases even more expensive -- especially for those that don't want Blu-ray discs.
Still, Blockbuster does have a few advantages. Because Netflix has struck some deals with studios for lower prices or to get more streaming content, some DVDs and Blu-rays are not available to the company's subscribers until 28 days after they are released to everyone else. Blockbuster has not followed the same route so far more titles are available on the day and date of their release, or very shortly thereafter. If there's still a Blockbuster store nearby, the company offers subscribers the option of returning their disc to that location and checking out a title from the store's stock instead of waiting for the next one in your queue -- helpful since we've seen lots of reports of long wait times for certain hot titles by mail. Some might like that they can rent video games as well as movies as part of their plan.
Redbox is another consideration. The company's kiosks have been sprouting up in convenience stores, supermarkets, drugstores and elsewhere around the country. Per night costs are fairly low (around $1 for DVDs, $1.50 for Blu-ray), but if you rent a lot of movies or hang on to what you take for extra days, the costs can add up quickly. Another significant downside is that the selection is rather limited, and, like Netflix, there's often a 28 day delay until Redbox can offer the latest titles. On the plus side, there's no subscription to worry about and you can locate and reserve titles on line in many cases.
Finally, don't forget your local library. Many loan DVDs to their patrons, and some also offer Blu-ray Discs. The selection might not include this week's new releases, and you might have to wait your turn to check out a popular movie or TV show, but hey, it's free, and you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.