It's something that might have escaped much scrutiny if it weren't for certain past events and some eagle-eyed observers at DomainNameWire.com: Netflix has quietly - or so it hoped, we assume -- purchased the DVD.com domain. That news set off a flurry of speculation that having been foiled by the public outcry over its Qwikster escapade, Netflix has again set about achieving the same end now that the furor has died down. Experts speculate, however, that separating Netflix into two completely separate operations, with separate sites and separate billing, is probably not something that's going to be attempted again, at least in the short term. So what is going on?
What's up with DVD.com?
When DomainNameWire.com asked Netflix that question, it was told "Netflix cares about keeping DVD healthy, and this is just one small investment in keeping DVD healthy." When Peter Kafka of All Things Digital inquired, he was told that the web address was purchased "for purely defensive reasons, and that Netflix users will continue to access discs and streamed movies from the same site."
Alright then, that's settled ... or is it?
For a company that is interested in "keeping DVD healthy," Netflix has a funny way of showing its concern. In December, All Things Digital's Kafka commented that while Netflix is doing its best to keep its current DVD customers from bolting, it's not exactly rolling out the red carpet to get new ones to sign up. In particular, he says, would-be new subscribers have to dig through the Netflix site to find that the company still rents DVDs at all. Most interesting, he finds that if you want to give a Netflix subscription as a gift, it is now a streaming-only gift or nothing at all.
In January, company CEO Read Hastings told investors that he sees little future when it comes to discs and Netflix. "We expect DVD subscribers to decline every quarter forever," he said.
Last week, reports surfaced that Netflix has been creating different user experiences for streaming-only and DVD-only subscribers. It's a relatively minor thing -- hiding DVD-only titles from streaming subscribers, and streaming ones from DVD-only users. Still, as HackingNetflix.com comments, it also means that you can't review or see reviews of titles that are not on your plan.
So where is all this going? TechCrunch.com's Ingrid Lunden says that Netflix is unlikely to try anything as clumsy as Qwikster again. After all, DVD subscriptions still represent a significant piece of the company's revenues, though how long Netflix's DVD business will stay profitable in the face of declining subscriptions is another question. What she does see is the likelihood that DVD-only subscribers will be given their own site, while others will see a Netflix site dedicated to online streaming. We see the same thing, but one thought keeps tugging at our mind: Exactly how is that different from Qwikster?