Entertainment Ecosystems

My brother’s girlfriend bought him an Apple TV for Christmas. He brought it over yesterday so I could try it. It was wonderful.

Over the years he purchased a lot of TV Shows through iTunes, including The Wire and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. With his iTunes login credentials I was able to watch all the episodes of Sunny I haven’t seen without having to go to bittorrent. Sunny episodes aren’t available on Hulu and Netflix and for good reason…it’s a good show that’s worth more than a slice of subscription revenue.

Also during this time I did a review of monthly expenses I had in 2011. I thought of Netflix and did the math. If you’re on the default plan you’re spending roughly $200 a year on Netflix streaming and 2 DVDs at a time. I end up using Netflix passively. I only look forward to a few new releases and the shows I end up watching are ones I’ve already seen.

So I pay $200 a year to channel surf on Netflix and watch Twilight Zone episodes. Is Netflix really worth $200 a year to me? With this in mind I reduced the plan I’m on to a single disc at a time with streaming.

But then I started thinking what if I were to drop Netflix entirely and just rent what I wanted to actually see rather than use a queue and feel obligated to watch movies all the time. For sake of argument, I’d rent a single movie every weekend, and at current digital rental prices it would cost roughly $20 a month…okay—more than Netflix.

The lazy tax is in effect here.

The format war between DVD and BluRay is over. DVD’s ubiquity won. It’s now physical versus digital. Eventually digital will win, but if you want the new releases over the Internet you can either wait for Netflix to catch up or just go with the number of services that offer them digitally. If you buy videos, about every five years you’re asked to choose between the current format and the up and comer. But now, in the digital world, it’s between iTunes, Zune, Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, VUDU, the Sony store on PS3, and a bunch of others.

You end up having to choose your entertainment ecosystem.

If you have an iTunes account the choice is simple. You get your music that way anyway,1 so just rent movies from iTunes. Sony and Microsoft have similar offerings available on their consoles, and from what I can tell they’re about the same prices everywhere. It ends up being about what’s already connected to your TV and where you’ve already made your purchases.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Netflix eventually adds a la carte movie streaming and purchasing to support new releases. Netflix has an advantage because they’re hardware agnostic—it’s available on all the things you already connect to your TV. But what Netflix gets wrong is that they forego the sense of collection like many subscription services do. Netflix never feels like it’s yours. Meanwhile the Apple TV does feel like you own the content, even though it’s pretty much the same technology.

…on the other hand, some things aren’t worth spending $20 to own when they’re available the same way over Netflix.


  1. Even if you don’t get your music this way, but manage it in iTunes, it still makes sense if you use iTunes Match…despite its bugginess.