Friday, January 20, 2012

Netflix, and it's impact on a naysayer

Now I'm a believer....

For years I fended them off with excuses, “Takes too long to download”, “I don’t like watching films on my laptop”, “It’s illegal you know” and various other pleas all intended to shut them up and stop them trying to tempt me with their fancy new means of film watching. What could I say? I was a traditionalist and despite the extra costs involved I still enjoyed the now seemingly archaic practise of going into my local retail or rental store and perusing the shelves before paying cold, hard cash for a physical copy of whatever film I fancied viewing. Oh how they laughed as they watched films not even out in the cinemas yet while I steadfastly refused to join them in their deviant ways. I may have been out of pocket but I was on the right side of the law and when the whole thing came crashing down and all their homes were being infiltrated by the FBI I’d have the last laugh.

I’m not sure why but I’ve never taken to the idea of downloading movies for free on the internet. My above excuses were only applicable to an extent. As broadband speeds in Ireland became fast enough to download even the biggest of files in a matter of minutes my first excuse was rendered utterly obsolete. I don’t like watching films on my laptop though, that much is true. “You can hook it up to your TV or put them on a USB stick”, I was told before muttering something about ‘too many wires’ and skulking back to my DVD collection to pick out an old favourite. As for the legality issue?! Half the stuff I watch online is probably illegal anyway so I couldn’t lay claim to being any kind of law abiding citizen that was for sure.

Other issues such as picture quality, virus threats and the simple fact that I liked to pick and choose what I wanted to watch rather than cold heartedly pinpoint a target before downloading it in a clinical manner all played their part in ensuring that I never once felt like joining all those law breakers and was content to live in a relatively bygone age. However as the recession hit and lavish spending in local stores became a thing of the past so I felt my choices becoming constricted. Whereas at one time I would have had no issue forking out a tenner, and sometimes more, on a film I now baulked at retail prices and the few purchases I did make invariably came from online stores. Although I was still reluctant to fully embrace the digital age I was at least making an effort.

Vowing to no longer pay the exorbitant prices offered by high street stores I found myself turning to other avenues. Having a digital video recorder in the comfort of your own home is a tremendous luxury and I trawled the TV listings ensuring that any film that may be of even the slightest interest was recorded and stored for my viewing pleasure at a later date. This was all well and good but save for a few interesting indie flicks on Film Four and the occasional gem on the terrestrial channels I was left with pickings of a decidedly slim variety. The other option was of course the rental store and trawling through the foreign cinema section was, and still is, a pleasure that I’m always happy to avail of. But again the cost element was proving increasingly prohibitive. New releases for €5? You’re having a laugh! Two new releases for a tenner and we’ll throw in a carton of popcorn? Sure what would I want with yeer shitty popcorn when I have mountains of goodies from Dealz waiting for me at home.

So this was my state of affairs. A film lover in no man’s land, neither here nor there. And then Netflix arrived. Seeming from nowhere and with very little fanfare. Casually scanning the list of new apps on my XBOX, of which there seemed to be one every day, I came across the blood red logo with Netflix emblazoned in white. *adopts tone of Victorian detective unveiling a new, exciting clue* “What could this be”?  I wondered to nobody in particular. “Net? Hmmm, methinks this relates to the internet. Flix? Could it be movie or film related?” I pondered no more and downloaded the app using my super fast Irish broadband. Arriving at the welcome screen I was asked if I’d like to begin my 30 day free trial. God you’re a bit forward aren’t you? I hardly even know you!! I quickly backed out of this eager provider of flix but vowed to return once I’d found out a bit more about it.

Further inspection revealed all sorts of interesting details about this mysterious newcomer. Apparently it provided the opportunity to stream movies through your XBOX, and in High Definition no less! I felt the first quiver of excitement. There was no limit on the amount of content you watched. Another quiver, this time more pressing. After your free trial was over it was only 5.99 per month to avail of the service. Gimme a pen, where do I sign up!! My enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by grumblings over the array of films and tv shows available to watch. I checked it for myself and found a few grumbles emitting themselves despite my best intentions. Maybe this wasn’t for me after all. Time to return to the rental store then. But wait! You can access the American Netflix I was informed, and by jove they were right. A few simple settings changes (was this legal? I cared not) on my XBOX and away I went.

The choice on offer still couldn’t compare with the sheer volume of options offered by the file sharing sites, or the rental and retail stores for that matter , but here I was getting the best of both worlds and not only was it legal it was also free, at least for now anyway. I joyfully flicked through the genres cooing gently to myself as I went and wondered how I was going to watch all of the stuff on offer in whatever free time I had. After a solid hour of deliberation and playing around with all the features I watched my first ever film using the internet as means of consumption. That it was a low budget Norwegian fantasy/horror entitled ‘TrollHunter’ is irrelevant, I was now watching movies in the manner of a modern day man and by some strange quirk it actually felt good. But not only was I a convert I now wished to bring new followers to this shiny new chapel. I texted friends and relatives asking them if they’d used this new means of movie watching and urged them to get right on it. Netflix had created the perfect storm and I was determined to ride each and every one of its waves.

It’s early days yet though and I’m determined not to get carried away. I’ve been told that access to the American Netflix only lasts for seven days before us unfortunate souls are consigned to the less attractive European model. What then? I don’t know how good or bad the European version is but I’ll certainly be willing to give it a try for at least the remainder of my trial run. Aside from the movies on offer there are countless TV shows in which to immerse yourself with the possibility of watching an entire series via the Netflix app. Documentaries also feature for those moments when you wish to be entertained and educated at the same time. When you couple Netflix with Muzu, the recently added music app, it seems only a matter of time before Microsoft’s claims about gaming consoles being ‘entertainment hubs’ capable of servicing all our needs comes to fruition.

On a wider scale the arrival of Netflix, and the ease at which even the most cynical of people can be converted, looks set to drive another nail firmly into the coffin of the local retail store. I for one will decry the demise of physical shops where you can walk in and while away the hours browsing to your heart’s content. But when HMV up their special offer on DVDs and CDs from two for €12 to two to €14 like they did at the turn of the year it’s hard to feel any sympathy for them. Sadly it’s only a matter of time before the last remaining stores disappear from our streets altogether as more and more people figure out that there’s cheaper and more importantly easier ways to acquire their goods. Because no matter how much you try and resist change it will eventually find a way of burrowing into your psyche and revising your opinion no matter how deep-set. Take it from me I should know.  

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