Why Netflix Instant’s selection sucks

I wrote a piece for Techdirt about how a shift from the “permisionless”—but paid—DVD rental business to the permissions intensive movie streaming has prevented Netflix Instant from having anything like the selection of old-fashioned Netflix.

It should be astonishing that a company that once had to maintain and transport a staggering inventory of fragile plastic discs is able to offer less when its marginal cost dropped to near zero.

The problem is that, unlike earlier movie-rental options, streaming rights fall fundamentally within a permission culture. Netflix is a great illustration of what’s gone wrong here. It’s gone from having a nearly unrivaled catalog of films available to rent to being the butt of Onion jokes. What happened: It shifted from a system where nobody had a veto power over its operations, to one where it had to get permission and make deals with Hollywood. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the concrete costs of living in a permission culture, but the decline of Netflix’s selection is an important cautionary tale.

I’d been meaning to write this for a long time! I like the way it came together, and I’m glad I got a chance to lay this line of reasoning out.

Published by Parker Higgins

I'm the Director of Special Projects at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and previously led copyright activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I live and work in Brooklyn, New York. more »