Monday, February 13, 2006

Why I'd like to throttle Netflix

Nothing quite like paying for "Unlimited Rentals" and being penalized for taking advantage of unlimited rentals. If you're a "heavy user" or a "high volume renter" at Netflix, you're probably getting fucked. Bend over.

This story has been rumbling around the net, various blogs and link sites (like Digg, Slashdot, and probably' "most popular") for a few weeks now, and I'm happy to see the mainstream press (like the Washington Post is finally picking up on it (hint: to read articles on Wash Post (and other sites) without having to bow to their compulsory registration, check out

The brief summary goes like this:

Sucker...err..."Valued Customer" signs up for Netflix because it seems like a good deal. Unlimited rentals for under $19/month, shipped to your door, postage paid, including postage paid return envelope. Cool. I'm lazy, I got sick of Blockbuster fucking up and finding my "hey, you never returned Krull" movies on the shelf. Where do I sign up?

Given that it's "unlimited rentals", sucker user...damn it..."Valued Customer" does his best to take advantage of the offer. Rent a movie, watch it in a day or two, return the movie, get another movie. If you can turn around, say, 15 movies in a month, then each movie costs you about $1.26. If you rent three movies and sit on them for two months, then each movie costs you about $13.00. Netflix works for "Valued Customer" if "Valued Customer" devours a ton of movies per month. Netflix works for Netflix if "Valued Customer" rents three movies, then returns them 2 months later. Many "Valued Customers" in the world figured this out. Netflix finally figured out that "Valued Customer" figured out, and has implemented something called "throttling" to penalize "Valued Customer" for renting too many movies per month.

If you, "Valued Customer", rent and return a bunch of movies in a month, you'll find yourself at the end of a long list for new and popular releases. While Joe Schmoe, who rents three movies every two months, gets bumped to the top of the queues. Take, for example, my queue. The top movie has been, since mid November (before it was even released) The 40 Year Old Virgin. It's been released for two months now, yet, in my queue, it's still listed as "Very Long Wait". Seem fair? Aren't I paying the same $19/month that the Joe Schmoes of the world are paying? Why should I be denied something I want to see, simply because I'm playing by the sales rules set up by Netflix. Why are they allowed to do this? Oh, yeah, the almighty "Terms Of Use". Basically, they say "we can fuck you in any manner which we see fit. And if we're not fucking you enough right now, we reserve the right to change the rules and fuck you more later". Copied and pasted below are the pertinent parts regarding throttling. I'll edit out stuff that doesn't pertain to my current rant:

Allocation, Delivery and Return of Rented DVDs

We reserve the right to allocate and ship DVDs among our subscribers in any manner that we, in our sole and absolute discretion, determine.


As a result, we may not always send you the top choices from your queue, and we may not ship out your next DVD on the same day that we receive one from you.


In determining priority for shipping and inventory allocation, we give priority to those members who receive the fewest DVDs through our service. As a result, those subscribers who receive the most movies may experience that (i) the shipment of their next available DVD occurs at least one business day following return of their previously viewed movie, (ii) delivery takes longer, as the shipments may not be processed from their local distribution center and (iii) they receive movies lower in their queue more often than our other subscribers.


We...[snip]...may, in our sole and absolute discretion, change our business practice regarding allocation, delivery and shipping, without notice. We may from time to time revise these Terms of Use but we will not necessarily provide you notice of the revisions.

So, you may ask, what's the point of this rant? Well, in the last couple of days of ranting to friends and coworkers, I've found many that have no idea they're being penalized for playing by the rules. I'm hoping some will see this and get pissed off. Also, I'm hoping enough people get pissed off that a class action suit is filed. I'm not one of the "I just spilled hot coffee on my balls, and I was so surprised that it was hot that I'm gonna sue you" kinda guys. But there are some things that warrant a little legal pressure. Hell, Netflix got sued for not delivering rentals in the advertised "next day". I'd say this is a bit bigger of a deal than that. Finally, I'm hoping that people Google-ing for "Netflix sux monkey nutz" will happen across this and get the message and pass it to future class members.