Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Netflix May Let You Drop the Disc for the Web [UPDATED]

Netflix is still apologizing for things it said and did in Canada. It’s a cursed place! But the company’s latest mea culpa, via a blog post from CEO Reed Hastings, has a cool Easter egg: Netflix may offer customers a Web-only option soon.

“We are looking at adding a streaming-only option for the USA over the coming months,” Hastings writes. And that’s all he writes about the subject.

But that’s interesting, and likely inevitable. Hastings has been clear that Netflix (NFLX) is tranforming from a DVD-by-mail company to a Web service that may give you discs if you really want them.

It’s not a slam dunk, though. Netflix can give you just about any movie you want if you’re willing to wait for a DVD to show up in your mailbox. But its Web catalog has just a small slice of its physical catalog, perhaps 20 percent.

That’s fine, apparently, for people who signed up for the disc service at $9 a month–anything you get on the Web is gravy. But even assuming that Netflix charges Web-only customers much less per month, it’s hard to imagine how it can make a compelling offering–for now.

Then again, if it keeps paying out big money for licensing deals like the $1 billion Epix deal it inked last month, things could get more interesting, soon. UPDATE: Like this morning, for instance, when Netflix announced a new deal with NBC U that adds both network hits like Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, plus cable favorites like Battlestar Galactica, to its lineup.

If you have eight minutes, you can can get a summary of Hastings’s worldview and general plans, via an edited version of my interview with him at CES last January:

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald