Netflix's Disappointing Arrival in Canada

BlogHer Original Post
Netflix Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings speaks during the launch of streaming internet subscription service for movies and TV shows to TVs and computers in Canada at a news conference in Toronto September 22, 2010. The Canadian introduction marks the first availability of the Netflix service outside of the United States.  REUTERS/ Mike Cassese  (CANADA - Tags: MEDIA BUSINESS)

Like many Canadians, I've been looking enviously at my southern neighbours and wondering when Netflix would finally make its way above the 49th parallel. When it finally did, we found ourselves looking at download limits, an unspectacular selection, and some lessons on how not to launch a product.

On the outside looking in, Netflix always seemed like the holy grail of video rental. Sure I've dabbled with Zip.ca and have friends who swear by iTunes Canada, but somehow they always seemed lacking in comparison. When I found out that they were coming, I signed up for email alerts and eagerly read about their press conference. When it was revealed that there were paid actors at the press event my opinion of Netflix fell quite a few notches before I had even clicked over to their new website.

As a news conference was kicking off to announce Netflix's service — which uses the Internet to stream unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows for $7.99 a month — extras were asked to spill into the street and encouraged to “play types, for example, mothers, film buffs, tech geeks, couch potatoes etc.” ... “Extras are to behave as members of the public, out and about enjoying their day-to-day life, who happen upon a street event for Netflix and stop by to check it out,” reads an information sheet handed out to extras.

Reaction to the discovery of planted actors was, as you would expect, negative. The Financial Post called it a PR NetFail.

While marketers frequently hire paid “influencers” to promote everything from banking products to beer in public, they often wear t-shirts or make it obvious to consumers and media that they are working on behalf of a company.

“Perhaps the hope was that journalists would be too dumb to ask if they were actors,” Tweeted Peter Nowak, a technology reporter for the CBC, after hearing about the incident from a reporter attending the event. “One clearly wasn’t.”

Unfortunately it's not the only issue for Netflix. There's also the download cap issue -- the issue being that Canadians have them. As CEO Reed Hastings pointed out in an interview with CBC most Americans don't have download caps.

CBC: You touched on the download caps. In the U.S., internet subscribers typically get hundreds of gigabytes of usage, if not unlimited, while here in Canada, it's usually closer to 50 or 60. How much did you study that before deciding to launch here?

Hastings: In the states, it's almost completely unlimited and the lowest cap I've ever heard of is 250 gigabytes, so it's essentially uncapped. In the near term it's a point of concern but if you look at how the situation was five years ago, the caps were a lot lower, the bandwidth was a lot lower. If you look 10 years ago, it was dial-up. Every five years, broadband is making great progress and in another five years, I'm sure it will be much better — more bandwidth, more fibre, higher caps. The underlying trend line is good. Again, as we said, we'll just have to see month by month, does it turn into an issue, and if so, what can we do about it?

Possibly a more pressing concern in the short-term is Netflix Canada's selection, or rather the lack thereof. Gillian Shaw's first impression of Netflix Canada was disappointing.

I checked out the new service. My first reaction? Disappointing.

An early look at the listings suggests the selection is slim and the movies somewhat dated.

Karon Liu at Toronto Life took advantage of the free trial to check out the selection and not only is it limited, their suggestions are ... interesting.

Not available: Iron Man

Recommendation: There are two options. An explosion porn movie called Twelve Rounds starring WWE wrestler John Cena, and the 1982 Wes Craven–directed campy-horror flick Swamp Thing, which, according to the trailer, has “monsters and midgets.”

I don't think Netflix is having the kick off that they envisioned. I'm not really to sign up quite yet. I think I want to wait a few months and let their selection improve a bit first. I also want to keep an eye on our current Internet bill and see how close we get to our download cap each month to see if it's even a feasible option for us.

Have you given their free trial offer a try? What do you think?

Contributing Editor Sassymonkey also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

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