Streamageddon: Your Netflix Queue Just Got Shorter

Mayday is Doomsday for lovers of classic films on Netflix.

Today, the Warner/MGM library of classic films–the stuff I actually watch–vanished from the service. My queue was 49 films lighter this morning, and I’m feeling a little grumpy about it, particularly since I was preparing to cut my cable TV at the end of May.

Those classics films are appearing on the new Warner Archive Instant service: a premium streaming service that launched last month for $10 a month, and so far has slightly over 200 titles. Warner told Salon that WAI had nothing to do with the Netlfix loss of the library:

A spokesperson for Warner Bros. insists that the launch of Warner Archive Instant is not responsible for the removal of films from Netflix’s streaming service. Joris Evers of Netflix writes in to say that Netflix often licenses movies on an exclusive basis and sometimes chooses not to renew less watched titles. He also notes that many of the movies expiring at midnight were part of a deal Netflix had with Epix.

I can see that. Netflix is known for two things: a) creating a ground-breaking movie delivery service, and b) screwing it up.

But WAI isn’t exactly a brilliant idea, either. The Warner service is just another part of the weird studio branding attempts, like creating massive Blu-Ray box sets of movies that have nothing in common other than the Warner label. No one sits down and says, “Hey, honey, wanna watch a Warner movie tonight?” No one other than film buffs would even be able to tell you which stars were with which studios at which points in history.

And I was just getting pretty happy about the way entertainment delivery was developing, with streaming services replacing discs and cable. I don’t need 500 channels. I don’t sit down to “watch TV,” flicking around until I find something slightly less stupid than the offerings on the other 499 stations. If I feel like watching something particular (say, an old movie or an episode of Person of Interest), I sit down and watch it until it’s over, and then I stop and get on with my life. Not a single thing passes in front of my eyeballs that isn’t on disc, DVR, or streaming.

That era of “let’s see what’s on TV tonight” is over, and I’m glad to see the back of it. It was mostly a time-wasting, mind-dulling swamp. The only benefit it ever provided was a sort of shared cultural consciousness. You knew the next morning that everyone had watched MASH or the latest installment of Shogun the night before, and everyone could talk about it. It was the same thing during the Golden Age of radio. People describe walking down a city street on a summer night and being able to listen to the entire Edgar Bergen show as the sound drifted through one open window after another. Everyone was glued to the same station at the same time.

Of course, that was entertainment a family could enjoy together. I enjoy Walking Dead just fine, but it’s not something you gather the whole family for, unless you’re the Manson Family.

This atomization of entertainment isn’t a bad thing, though. I used to have to search out the quirky things I loved–silent and classic film, foreign films, old horror movies–sometimes paying $50 for a crummy VHS tape, as I had to for Murnau’s Nosferatu. Now, it’s all at the tips of my fingers for a pittance.

In order for that to really work, however, the streaming services need to get it together and make good deals to build strong libraries. No one wants to manage and pay for 5 or 6 services: that’s sending the whole technology in the wrong direction.

NOTE: Posts are going to be short and scattered as I finish my semester and take finals. Should be back on schedule soon.