Qwikster Goeth, or What the Hell is Going on at Netflix?

· Joanthan Poritsky

Netflix is making it real hard for customers to keep cool and stay confident that they know what the hell they are doing. After botching a summer price hike, confusing customers and initiating an exodus of 1 million customers, CEO Reed Hastings came out and made a large-scale public apology last month while announcing a new DVD-only company called Qwikster, turning Netflix proper into a streaming only service. Today, Hastings is backtracking. In a blog post, he succinctly lets us know that Qwikster is canceled and that Netflix will remain unchanged.

It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

This means no change: one website, one account, one password… in other words, no Qwikster.

I was uneasy about the price hike, and frustrated by the Qwikster announcement, but I understood it and gave Netflix the benefit of the doubt. Now, not so much. Now, I’m pissed.

Whenever I write about Reed Hastings, I tend to paint him in a visionary light, and it’s all well deserved. He upended an entire industry and built a company with incredible customer service. However, Reed has never been tested like he has this year. I think it’s now safe to say that he failed.

Customers wanted to be reassured that the company they love wasn’t going to screw them. That’s what Reed’s Qwikster announcement was all about. He said all the right things in a tone people can respect. He put his foot down and said the company is going to take a major chance. Netflix bet the farm on the future.

Less than a month later the entire plan is undone. What new information could there possibly be after a few weeks that Hastings and company couldn’t foresee when they set this up?

Let’s pretend that they are responding to the biggest customer complaint regarding managing two different queues and ratings/reviews accounts. That functionality was expressly explained by Hastings in his announcement. If they didn’t see it as a problem until after the Qwikster announcement, what else are they missing?

There is the unlikely possibility that all of this was actually a smart move. Perhaps (and that’s a big perhaps) Netflix was trying to wave a big stick in the face of the studios, to let them know that if they don’t get serious about making streaming pacts they are willing to break up the company at the studios’ expense. The metrics of this conspiracy theory don’t entirely add up, but that’s the only positive explanation I can think up for these erratic moves.

Reed, you fucked up in July. Then you fixed it in September. Now you fucked up again.

The only olive branch left to offer customers is a price cut or at least a rebate of some sort. Look at how Apple dealt with “antenna-gate”. They never admitted culpability, but they spent some money on free bumpers so that they could sell a ton more iPhones and restore confidence in the company.

I have little confidence that Netflix has a clear vision for the future anymore. I doubt I’m alone. It’s time to win back customers and quit shooting from the hip.