I’m one of those old school Netflix users who prefer getting DVDs in the mail. I resist the move towards streaming videos. Heck, most of us get nothing but bills and junk mail in our mailbox, so I look forward to getting a new movie rental in the mailbox every couple of days. It’s like getting a treat.
What isn’t a treat is getting the DVD or blu-ray disc that is scratched, broken, or otherwise unwatchable. In the past two-and-a-half months, I’ve received 3 broken or scratched DVDs that I had to send back without watching all the way through. When the third disc started messing up, my first thought was, “I sure hope Netflix doesn’t think I’m ruining all these discs.”
Scratched Netflix Discs: A Conspiracy Theory
Then another thought occurred to me: is Netflix letting their disc catalog “go bad” in order to drive customers to streaming? I’m not saying that’s the case, but I wanted to float that theory out there and see if other Netflix disc watchers have noticed a decided uptick in messed up DVDs.
It may seem crazy to think a business would sabotage their own product in order to modify the behavior of their customers, but this wouldn’t be the first time for this particular company. Netflix has gotten into the nasty habit of providing worse or lesser service when it served their purposes.
Netflix’s List of Nefarious Customer Relations
If the online film rental and video watching community is right, Netflix has a history of customer behavior modification through providing worse service. A class-action lawsuit in 2005 revealed that Netflix “throttles” mail rentals to high-volume video watchers, because if these discs get to the customer and back too soon, Netflix is operating at a loss providing service to that Netflix user.
Netflix also eliminated the “Releasing This Week” feature from their site (or made it hard to find), because they knew this led to too many people putting new releases at the top of their queue. Even those who did what Netflix wished and moved to video streaming think Netflix is throttling service to modify their behavior.
Qwikster: Worse Service Equals Big Profits…NOT!
In light of those practices, is it so crazy to think Netflix would let their DVD and blu-ray catalog go bad, hoping it will drive disc renters to switch to streaming?
Everyone knows Netflix has added motivation enough to switch to streaming, offering a streaming plan for the $7.99 per month rate while raising our snail mail prices. We’re all aware of the Qwikster fiasco, when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings tried to move all the DVD users over to a whole other website named “Qwikster“, as if we were the red-headed stepchildren of the Netflix family (I say that as a redhead).
So why wouldn’t they let their video catalog slowly wither on the vine?
I’m not saying I think Netflix has employees deliberately scratching discs or otherwise sabotaging their own products. I’m wondering if they might be devoting less of the budget to replacing or repairing bad discs, hoping that repeated bad experiences cause the average DVD renter to say, “Screw it! I’m dropping DVDs and blu-rays and switching to streaming.”
I could be wrong. That would be a big risk to provide bad service hoping for a switch to the new technology, because these same customers might come to the conclusion Netflix sucks and they’re going to find another way to rent films. Every scratched blu-ray or DVD could be one more customer using Redbox or Greencine.com. In light of last year’s disastrous public relations and stock market performance of Netflix, alienating their customer base might be the last thing on their mind. I just want to know what other Netflix people’s recent experiences are.
Pissed Customers Speak Out
To study this thesis, I went to Pissed Consumer and did a search using “scratches Netflix“. I found a number of irate customers complaining of scratched discs, along with one or two who claimed they’d noticed a difference in the quality of their DVDs.
- There was “BBB444444”, who complained on November 27, 2011 that DVD condition had worsened in the past few months. She says she thinks they’re stealing money before they go out of business and can’t imagine another reason they would send out bad discs, but I can imagine another reason.
- Then there was “Ferenczy36”, who claimed his/her Rockstar CD-Rom htat was mistakenly sent to Netflix came back broken. That might not have much to do with our discussion, but one of the replies (from “Mary”) described on April 23, 2011 that she had received 7 bad discs in a row. This got me to thinking: maybe disc-scratch negligence didn’t start after the Qwikster debacle, but in the months before the push for streaming, as a way to cause frustration and disenchantment with DVD rentals.
- A discussion started by “Caesar1951” offers interesting insight into the state of Netflix blu-ray rentals. I can’t speak to blu-ray quality nearly as much personally, but I would have thought blu-rays would be in better condition than DVDs, since they would presumably be newer and in better condition. According to over half the people on that thread, Netflix blu-ray quality is low, too.
- PACMAN on August 3, 2011 complained about the low quality of discs, saying they’d had multiple problems. The reply on this thread by “R Smith” on January 15, 2012 is mostly gibberish, but if I’m deciphering correctly, it says, “They just don’t keep up the quality on their dvds…They’re…only interested in more money from instant play…They’ve really declined in (the) quality of their service.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, R Smith (well, I kind of did, but you get the point).
Again, I could be wrong. These are posters on a site called “Pissed Customer“, so I assume the site might attract more than its share of disgruntled people.
In my case, two of the bad discs I received were 10-year old tv series that probably had a lot of watching and a lot of wear-and-tear. But then, I’ve watched a lot Netflix discs over the years that meet the same description. I’ve never had anywhere close to 3 broken discs in 8-10 weeks time. Who knows–maybe I’m getting discs right after some lousy customer who just-so-happens to like the same television programming.
But it’s also possible that Netflix policy makers could see the value in letting the quality of their discs slowly erode, knowing that many customers will eventually get disgusted and thus switch to the more cost-effective streaming videos.
Call Me, We’ll Talk
Now that I think about it, a theory of malign neglect doesn’t sound so crazy after all. Even if Netflix hasn’t been doing this already, I’m sure if they ever got wind of this theory drifting through the Internet, Reed Hastings and his fellow policy makers would be discussing a new strategy at their next board meeting.
If so, let me tell the Board of Directors I’m extremely devious and this is just the tip of the iceberg. For much less than those other schemers you have working for you, I can come up with all kinds of crazy ways to mess with people’s minds.
In that case, Netflix should consider this my resume.