4. The selection
THEN: Watch Now first debuted with just 1,000 titles. Slate wasn't particularly impressed:
"I can honestly say… that in the 12 or so hours I've spent watching Netflix's streaming offerings, I've seen nothing I would pay to see. At the risk of sounding needlessly harsh, I found the offerings impressively bad, as though some schlock curator from an Ivy League cinema studies department was called upon to select the dreckiest soft-porn screwball comedies ever made. Find Caddyshack too highbrow? Try Golfballs! You won't find any of Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs movies. You will find Andy Sidaris' Triple B trilogy, which features more 'bullets, bombs, and babes' than you can shake a stick at. If you search hard enough, you'll find a handful of newish highbrow releases like Sherrybaby and Conversations With Other Women. But good luck finding enough to keep you entertained."
There was a lot of dreck, but note that Netflix subscribers were then accustomed to being able to pick from its vast DVD library, so, comparatively the compact streaming list likely seemed like a very insulting sample size. Because, to be fair, Watch Now also included a smattering of movie classics, many of which, a decade later, still hot potato between Netflix, Amazon and, Hulu: 12 Angry Men, A Clockwork Orange, Misery, When Harry Met Sally, and the omnipresent Chinatown. There was some solid '90s popcorn (True Lies, Waterworld), and on the TV side there were some gems like 30 Rock and, foreshadowingly, the original BBC House of Cards.
NOW: When it comes to nailing down how many titles Netflix streaming currently offers, the company is mum (as they are about most of their data): Varying reports last year estimated 2016's combined TV/movie selection last year from 5,000-7,000, a number that a Barclays report estimated to have shrunk by 28% from the previous year.
Long-time subscribers have certainly noticed the waning of familiar titles over the years: In 2008, Netflix made a deal with Starz to sublicense their cable library of 2,500 films, which included such respectable films as Scarface, Scream, Beetlejuice, and Big. (Starz CEO Chris Albrecht would later bemoan the $30 million deal as "terrible.") When that deal phased out in 2012, subscribers grumbled about the drop in memorable titles. Netflix would go on to sign other huge deals to amp up their marquee content, including a massive $300 million-a-year deal for recent Disney movies, including Pixar and Marvel titles. But let's face it: the library ain't what it used to be.
However, a large selection of known quantities doesn't seem to be Netflix's goal anymore, a company that is spending $6 billion a year on its own exclusive original content, from more TV series than the human eyeball can consume to indie films plucked from Sundance and Cannes.
In 10 years, Netflix has become the giant of streaming, to the point that it's often used as the eponymous term for online video. (Nobody says, "I'm just gonna go home and Crackle.") But its dominance is being challenged by Amazon, which is racing to catch up by devoting $4.5 billion to video this year, so who knows what the streaming landscape will look like in another 10 years? Will Netflix have put the broadcast networks out of business? Will it stream in 3D? Or will it feel to us then the way that MySpace does today?
It is impossible to predict, but judging from the last decade, two things are certain:
- It will only get better -- but we will still have things to complain about.
- If not them, then someone, somewhere, will still be streaming Chinatown.