Living in a culture that is overly reliant on mass media definitely has its perks, as we are in the position to choose from various media platforms and providers like iTunes Movie Rentals, YouTube, Netflix and Torrents. Gone are the days of running to Blockbuster to grab a movie and candy – which can be attributed to the take over by such online media giants as Apple and Netflix. Society is now facing a new chapter in mass media, and whether we like it or not we must now place our loyalty in the hands of yet another large, internet based, money grab corporation, but the question is: which one has the consumers best interest at heart?
Leading the entertainment industry takeover are two online, streaming-based options: Netflix and Torrents. Both of these options have gained popularity due to their ease of access, availability and low or, in the case of Torrents, no cost. However, after looking into both, I discovered that most users are either on ‘Team Netflix’ or ‘Team Torrent’, rarely do they use both. Within both platforms, there are definite strengths as well as soft spots that I have identified and which I believe will help consumers choose the best ‘team’.
Netflix was established in 1997 by creators Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings, first with the concept of a ‘pay per movie rental’ distribution system in which the customers paid $4 per movie plus postage, Netflix quickly moved onto a month subscription basis for this program. Over the next few years Netflix would go on to further their dot-com venture, adding their most popular feature – unlimited online movie and television show streaming. With this added feature, Netflix users could now go online and select whichever program they were in the mood for and within seconds stream and begin viewing their selection on their Mac or PC, thus removing the hassle of waiting for the postal service. This streaming method has since grown and has been made to be compatible with further devices, such as: gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, phones, and HDTV’s. Since its establishment Netflix has developed an astonishing number of subscribers, as of April 2011 it has grown to 23.6 million.
Among those 23.6 million is Shelby Soke, an avid Netflix user for the past few years. Shelby said that both herself and her family are heavy movie watchers and that Netflix is a great solution for them as they can access many titles at any time, all using the same $7.99 per/month account – Shelby from Calgary and her family in small Bredenbury, Saskatchewan. Shelby credits the ease of access of Netflix as the reason why she has remains committed to and rarely uses other entertainment providers. With knowledge of her opinion, I was prompted to ask her if she saw Netflix as a major contributor to the recent bankruptcy of Blockbuster: “Most definitely, with all these new movie rental options that Apple and Netflix provide, Blockbuster didn’t stand a chance. Considering the culture we live in, where everyone expects everything instantaneously at the click of mouse – the concept of getting in your car and actually having to pick up the movie has become incomprehensible, these days so many people try to avoid that face-to-face encounter, the exponential growth and popularity of online shopping clearly shows that!”
It is no secret that the most common complaint of users of Netflix is the lack of various movie title options, especially new releases which can take months and in some cases years to reach this platform. “Yes, it would be nice if Netflix could provide more newly released movies and is disappointing when you are looking for a specific movie or T.V show and discover that it isn’t available, but there are still a lot of options. I feel as if people need to be more open to change or alternative/indie titles because Netflix definitely provides many of those titles. Never before have I watched so many documentaries, I am now aware of random knowledge such as on the water bottle industry which I fully credit to the fact that Netflix provides so many great and interesting documentary titles that I have chosen to take advantage of rather than complain about the lack of new mainstream movie titles,” says Shelby.
After sitting down and discussing with Shelby why she is an avid Netflix user, I got a better understanding of why The New York Times credited Netflix as being one of the most successful dot-com ventures ever. Not only does Netflix provide a variety of movie and television show titles that the consumer can access from their couch, the most major draw is the affordable $7.99per month cost.
However, trouble may lie ahead for this company, on September 18th, 2011, CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings announced that the DVD rental portion of Netflix would be a separate entity from the online streaming option. Now the DVD portion falls under the company ‘Qwikster’ and if consumers are looking to still have access to both options that were formally all-inclusive of Netflix, they will have to pay to separate fees.
This is where the entertainment platform of Torrents comes in handy, as there is no associated charge or fee with this option – except if the user signs up with certain torrent search engines. ‘Bitttorent’ has become the most popular form of peer-to-peer sharing for various applications like movies, music, and software. The way torrents work is the user searches whichever application they are looking for, selects a file and proceeds to download bits or files from a source. Torrents tend to be very user friendly and are quick to access and download, the only major issue with them is the legal ramifications. As the majority of torrent files are obtained illegally and the sharing of such applications without purchasing the right is also an illegal practice. The other risk that users must take into consideration is that since these .torrent files are downloaded from various sources, risks runs high that some files may be tampered with or contain viruses.
Sanja Okilj heavily relies on torrents, downloading various files, mainly music but she has also downloaded movie torrent files as well. In regards to the benefits that torrents provide her over other downloading platforms, “I really find it easy to use, and for most search engines you have the option of either downloading one song or the artists entire album which I really like.” When asked if the fact that torrents are free of charge factored into her decision – “oh for sure, its brutal to pay the $1.29 a song that iTunes charges, if we have the ability to peer-to-peer share why not take full advantage of it?” I finally questioned Sanja on whether she has ever run into issues with downloading in regards to viruses, “no I haven’t, but that could be because I have a Mac and they are designed to fend off almost all viruses.”
Based off of my research and conversations with Shelby and Sanja, I have drawn the conclusion that although both Torrent and Netflix are great platforms – they each cater to a certain type of user. The typical Netflix user doesn’t mind paying a monthly rate in order to stream television and movie titles to their computer, HDTV or the other applicable devices and other than the common complaint of a lack of variety and new releases, Netflix users seem to be pretty happy with the provided service. But it will be interesting to see how the division of Netflix into Qwikster will play out and if it will have a negative impact on the users opinion and support. Those who put their support behind Torrent tend to do so because it is free and offers more than just movies and television shows and even though users are fully aware of the associated legal issues, it does not deter them from continuing to download .torrent files.
Basically the decision of which ‘team’ to join is pretty much up to each user – based on their needs, but the major deciding factor is whether or not they are willing to pay for their entertainment.