Does Netflix Send Scratched Discs to Drive Customers to Streaming?

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.

Are Netflix Broken DVDs Part of Streaming Behavior Modification

Broken DVD #28 Courtesy of Manuel

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 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.

It’s possible.

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.

In case you’re interested, here are a couple more posts aimed at consumers: Big Red Coupons and Red Bull Coupons.

7 thoughts on “Does Netflix Send Scratched Discs to Drive Customers to Streaming?

  1. Never has much trouble with Netflix sending me scratched discs, and I’ve been a customer for 5 years. Still, given their history of throttling and removing items like the friends and new releases feature, I wouldn’t put it past them. It’s a real shame that they’ve become so greedy, but I guess what should we expect from a company that’s gone public. They have to answer to the stockholders, and the stockholders only care about one thing…making a profit. Soon, Netflix seems poised to be as impersonal and cutthroat as Blockbuster, and those are the exact reasons that people chose to go with Netflix in the first place.

  2. The last movisent to me was damaged…namely it was cracked. Will you please send me another copy thats playable…Tom McNamara

  3. I’m sending back “Grace Is Gone” because it is scratched.
    I tried and couldn’t find any help about returning a bad DVD.

  4. I have been with netflix for maybe 6 or 8 years, I have also seen way more bad disks lately. I wondered if it was that more people are doing streaming only and so they are just spending less on disk replacement. they recently sent me a disk that had been glued back together, either they are just to stupid to look at the disks before sending it or… I got nothing but its starting to get old! I pay for 3 disks at a time but seems like Im averaging 2 due to turn around time on bad disks. The issue is compounded if Im trying to watch a series in order. The Blu-ray disks have all been good but dvd’s have been looking pretty bad.

  5. My freguency of problem disc’s has really increased in the past 6 months. Have been a Netflix customer for a decade, but recently approximayely every third disc was unplayable. Some of those did play fine on my laptop. The problem got so bad that I upgraded to blu-ray thinking better quality. First 2 blu-ray rentals played great, third one was unplayable, yesterday received an older movie/regular dvd, will not play on either machine. Wanted to check blogs & complaints to assure self that it was not “operator” error.

  6. I’m trying to watch a movie right now, and about to start cursing out loud about the horrible playback. But as p-o’ed as I am, I don’t buy the conspiracy claim. Two reasons- 1, Netflix doesn’t have even half of the videos worth watching on instant viewing yet. Why drive customers to an online system, when your system is still infantile in its selection? And 2, I realize that I am actually a minority in today’s selfish, lazy, conceited, inconsiderate America. My own parents treat Netflix dvds like trash, leaving them face down on any surface, shoving them around as needed- they have zero respect for other people’s property, or the thought that other people might be getting screwed over by their carelessness and scratching.

    When even your own family won’t heed your requests for basic responsibility and respect, it’s tough to consider Netflix as the evil man behind the curtain solely culpable for scratched discs.

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