Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Netflix, Whitney Houston and the Great Streaming Video Outrage That Didn’t Happen

That story about an evil Hollywood studio pulling “The Bodyguard” away from Netflix, so it could sell more DVDs?

Totally evil.

Also, totally untrue.

So says Netflix PR rep Steve Swasey. “Completely bogus,” he says.

And I’ll take his word over the tale that has spread over the Web the last few days — that whoever owns the streaming rights to the 1992 Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner film had yanked them away from Netflix after Houston’s death, so it could make more money selling discs.

The reason that story didn’t make any sense to me isn’t because Hollywood studios are paragons of virtue, but because digital licensing deals are usually rigid, and start and stop on certain dates. If they allowed rights holders to yank their stuff on a whim, then we’d see it all the time, right?

And sure enough, it turns out Netflix hasn’t had the streaming rights to “The Bodyguard” — which belong to Time Warner’s Warner Bros. — since the end of last year. “We didn’t renew it,” Swasey says.* Netflix still rents the DVDs, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ah. But what about that Netflix rep who supposedly told talk show host and publisher Dan McDermott that a “production company” was pulling “all the streaming titles we have of Whitney Houston,” so it can make a “very large amount of money”?

This one is harder for Swasey to say is categorically false, since he didn’t hear the exchange himself. But he says it’s “highly doubtful” that a rep told any caller anything beyond the fact that the movie wasn’t available. Because support reps are trained to offer very little information beyond that, Swasey says.

So, perhaps a rep did think way outside the box here, but I tend to believe Swasey’s story here, too. Always more fun to imagine big companies behaving outrageously, but if that happened every time we imagined it did, it wouldn’t be outrageous.

*Perhaps there’s a good story about Warner Bros. titles leaving Netflix in general, since the studio and its parent company have had a … strained relationship with the movie service.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work