I Love Netflix, But I Hate It When DRM Gets in the Way of Legitimate Use

Last night before drifting off to bed, the lovely mrsth and I decided to watch another episode of her latest TV series on Netflix Watch Now, “Damages.” She’s been watching it more than me but it’s a nice way to wind down the end of a day together.

The only problem was that when we went to watch it on Watch Now on our Wii we got a message from Netflix telling us that they couldn’t play the show because we already were streaming 2 other movies on our Netflix account. The only thing was, we weren’t watching *any* other movies. The Netflix error message told me that I could get more help at Netflix.com/help.

Annoyed at the message, I got up and went downstairs to the kitchen to log on to our Netflix account on the Mac Mini to try and see what was going on.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything on the Netflix help site that addressed this question. When searching for the error message on Netflix nothing came up either. I did find in my account settings section where it showed that I had six authorized devices on my account — our wii, my wife’s iPhone, our two AppleTVs, my wife’s MacBook Pro laptop and our family HP notebook computer. I got an error message saying that I had too many devices linked to my account so in order to try and fix this I deleted the iPhone as an authorized device.

Then I went back upstairs to try to see if that would let us watch Netflix. Nope.

I still couldn’t figure out what was going on. We were watching Battlestar Galactica with the kids earlier on the AppleTV in the living room but I thought it had been turned off. Just to make sure I went down to the living room and physically unplugged the AppleTV.

Then I tried playing the show on Netflix again, Nope. Still no luck.

Finally I just got on the phone and called Netflix. After waiting on hold for a while I finally got to speak with a very nice customer service rep. This person looked into my account and told me that the reason why I couldn’t watch a show was that they showed that I was streaming Battlestar Galactica on my AppleTV and some other kids show (that my son apparently was watching earlier) on my wife’s iPhone.

I explained to the rep that this was not that case. That we were not watching anything on either of these two devices. I told her that I in fact had removed the iPhone as an authorized device and had physically unplugged the AppleTV unit we’d been watching earlier. She told me that apparently this doesn’t matter. If you don’t quit out of the movie the correct way Netflix will still show it streaming. She blamed “licensing requirements” that prevented them from doing anything about it. The good news was, she told me, that after 2 hours Netflix will time out without any activity and that the streams would end.

I explained to the rep that I didn’t want to watch TV in two hours. That I wanted to watch TV right then. I told her that I would be asleep in two hours. Even though she told me that she saw that I’d deleted the iPhone on my account though she said that her hands were tied and that there was nothing she could do. She did say that if I agreed to upgrade my account and pay them more money though that she could turn the TV back on for me because by adding a more expensive plan I’d get to use more streams at once.

Personally I think this sucks. I’m actually ok with Netflix’s 2 movie at a time requirement. But if their technology can’t do a good enough job to show when movies are playing and when they are not playing then I don’t think it’s fair for them to impose this DRM restriction. At a bare minimum a customer service rep ought to be able to reset your account if you’ve gone through all the trouble of waiting on hold and calling in.

The customer service rep finally did recommend that I try logging in and out of my Netflix account on my laptop to see if this might fix things. When I did this sure enough we were finally able to watch the show. Of course 15 minutes into watching it my son came into our bedroom complaining. He said that he wanted to finish watching the movie he’d started on the iPhone earlier that evening on the AppleTV in their bedroom, but he couldn’t because it said there were already two movies being streamed. Unfortunately he didn’t get to watch his movie last night.

With all this talk of cord cutting, Netflix has to do a better job. As much as I love the service, TV in the home needs to be easier than this. Until they can get this down correct, I think that they ought to disable their 2 movie at time restriction. I understand that they don’t want you handing out your Netflix user ID and password to other people outside your home and so they need to nail this down, but paying for a service and then not being able to use it fairly sucks.

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  1. Angus Thermopyle says:

    If you restart and then properly stop one of the zombie streams (a stream that is no longer playing but Netflix still registers as active), you can usually force the reset without waiting for the two-hour timeout. So in this case, you could start the same episode of Battlestar Galactica on the AppleTV, let it play for 30 seconds, then press the stop button. That sends the stop event message to Netflix’s system that it missed the first time. Most Netflix reps generally won’t have you try it on the phone, because it takes too long and it’s not 100% guaranteed to work every time.

  2. dude says:

    @Angus: Good trick but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a shitty experience. With all Netflix’s problems (like, “Unable to connect…” 1 in 10 attempts to launch the app, oops!) I can’t see the average person switching from their usual cable provider to their service.

  3. RDOwens says:

    I haven’t had that trouble, but I don’t doubt it for an instant.

    The thing I can’t figure out with Netflix is why I can’t get an RSS feed of the movies I have watched instantly. I can get the queue, but not what I actually watched.

    It seems silly not to provide that information for one to use.