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.

Netflix Customer Survey


I just answered an online Netflix customer survey that I was selected for. Among other things I was asked if I’d like to be considered to offer a testimonial in a possible future advertising campaign and was told that Netflix’s advertising agency is currently interviewing customers for this campaign.

The survey also focused on my streaming activity and on how many people were in my family. Netflix was interested both in the devices that I use to stream as well as where I stream.

As a total unrelated aside, I think it’s highway robbery that Microsoft tries to tax me $150 a year to consume my Netflix content that I already pay for on my XBox 360s. The fact that I can stream Netflix *for free* on virtually every other device but get reamed by Microsoft for wanting to consume my own paid for content via my XBox 360 is disappointing. I hope Microsoft reconsiders this horribly customer unfriendly policy. What’s next? Is Microsoft going to start charging me a toll or tariff to listen to my own mp3s on the XBox 360?

If you’d like to see the whole Netflix Survey you can check it out here.

Netflix Watch Now on Your Microsoft Media Center PC, But No Extender Support

Cupcake LoveWell Microsoft probably just incorporated my number one Media Center feature request into Media Center, unfortunately though they have decided *not* to include this support for the Media Center extender. Beginning immediately Windows Vista Media Center users can watch Netflix “Watch Now” programming on their Media Center PCs.

I am a *huge* fan of Microsoft Media Center’s Technology. At present it allows me to consume free OTA HDTV (along with a killer DVR), access my entire music library and playlists, access all of my photos in my library, and access some of my home video files (unfortunately the Media Center doesn’t support video files from the new Canon 5D M2 and I haven’t gotten around to figuring out how to convert these files yet — Apple does support these files in Qucktime by the way). All of this great technology is done on my Media Center PC in my attic. Then, best of all, I can stream all of this content seamlessly to XBox 360s extender units in my living room, bedroom and kitchen (you know, sort of the places where you consume this kind of media as opposed to up in my attic).

Now, a bunch of sites are abuzz this morning about Netflix Watch Now coming to the Media Center PC. But what’s so great about this? Personally, if Microsoft won’t let me consume this content on an extender unit, what good is that? If I want to watch Netflix Watch Now on an actual PC, I can just go directly to the Netflix page and watch it. While it’s probably a tiny bit better to watch it in Media Center (saves me a step or going directly to a website) it’s really not that big of an advancement.

Now Microsoft will probably say, yeah but… you can already stream Netflix watch now on an XBox 360. But there are several problems with this technology as it stands now.

1. Not everyone is using an XBox 360 as an extender unit. Other extender units are left out in the cold.

2. Streaming Watch Now to an XBox 360 requires a lame Microsoft Live Gold membership. I don’t want a Microsoft Live Gold Membership. I don’t do any gaming. I hate the fact that I have to pay for this membership that I don’t want in order to see my Netflix Watch Now service that I’m already paying Netflix for.

3. It’s a pain in the ass to have to log into my Live Gold membership every single time I turn my XBox 360 on before I can get to my Netflix Watch Now Service.

4. It sucks that it is *extremely* difficult to watch Netflix Watch Now on multiple XBox 360s. The only way to do this is to go through a cumbersome processing of reclaiming your existing gamer tag on a new box. Since there is no keyboard with my XBox 360s, this involves me going through about a five minute process of entering in passwords, email addresses, and lots of other information with a little XBox 360 game controller just in order to say watch a movie in my living room instead of in my bedroom. It frustrates my wife even more than me.

Now if today’s announcement also included a promise that Microsoft is still working on extender support and hopes to have it in the near future I’d be very happy. But there is no promise that we will ever see Watch Now support on Media Center extender units and so today’s news in my opinion is worse than no news or feature at all.

My own personal belief is that Hollywood and the studios do NOT want you to have Netflix Watch now in an easy way to consume on your television set at all, ever. They make much more money off of you by showing you TV with commercials or making you watch the content on DVD than they do when they revenue share streaming money with Netflix. By giving you Netflix in Media Center (but only on the PC where you could just as easily just watch it on Netflix’s site) they’ve given you really nothing at all. Without a promise of future extender support today’s news is pretty disappointing to me actually.

You can read the official Microsoft page on this news here. The more interesting conversation though is happening over at The Green Button here — where the hardcore Media Center geeks hang out.

The great promise of Media Center extender technology was that it would bring anything you could do on a PC to quieter, easier devices connected to your television set in the networked and connected home. By crippling this important technology and restricting it from Media Center extender devices this is a step backwards. Heck, I’d even pay Microsoft the same $50 a year to have this on my extender than I pay for the lame XBox Live Gold Membership that I’ve got now.

Netflix Watch Now Borked for the Second Saturday Night in a Row, Maybe Netflix is Not Ready for Prime Time

Netflix Watch Now Borked for the 2nd Saturday in a Row

Earlier this week I wrote a blog post about Netflix’s new Watch Now service being, well, out of service, last Saturday night. A couple of folks called me a cry baby for being a bit worked up over having my Friday Night Lights episode pulled out from underneath my eyes right at a very tense part of the show (ok, so how tense can Friday Night Lights get right?). In the post though I worried that Netflix’s Watch Now technical difficulties last weekend might be a harbinger of things to come.

Unfortunately it looks like this Saturday night Netflix’s Watch Now service is dead once again. Note to Netflix, if you want to screw around with your servers, do it on a Monday afternoon when nobody’s watching TV anyways. Saturday night is of course probably just about the worst time for Netflix’s service to go down.

The photograph above is what my screen looks like right now. On the plus side Netflix does seem to offer a toll-free number to contact them (866-579-7113). On the negative side that toll-free number has been busy for the past 20 minutes. Netflix’s customer service number on their website has also been busy for the past 20 minutes as well. Of course nowhere on Netflix’s site is any indication that they are having these technical difficulties but a quick Twitter search confirms that I’m not the only one who’s not going to be able to watch my Friday Night Light’s tonight.

As much as I love me my Netflix Watch Now, I’m beginning to worry a bit that their service may end up being a whole lot worst than your cable or satellite provider. At a bear minimum Netflix ought to post on their website that they are having problems with their service. Or if this is going to be an every Saturday night sort of problem, maybe they ought to think about hiring that Frank Cares Twitter guy from over at Comcast so he can get chummy with all the people complaining on Twitter about this outage right now.

Update: I was finally able to get through on the customer service number. I just spoke with Benjamin over at Netflix after being on hold for a bit and he told me that in fact the service is down for most of Netflix’s customers right now. He said that they are working on the problem but has no ETA. He said that he wasn’t able to offer a credit rebate for the down service because Watch Now is a bonus feature for Netflix subscribers.

Netflix Watch Now Outages Hit Saturday Night

Netflix Watch Now Outages Hit Saturday Night

I was disappointed last night to spend over two hours, including three customer service calls (holding up to 20 minutes in one case), in order to try and get Netflix’s “Watch Now” service to work on my XBox 360.

On the first customer service call the rep suggested that my internet connection wasn’t fast enough. But with a UVerse fiber connection (and a speed test to verify) this was not the problem. On the second customer service call, the rep had me uninstall my XBox 360 memory files on my XBox 360 and reinstall them.

After about an hour and a half of trying to troubleshoot why my programming would just stop, I went to Twitter and searched for Netflix and found that there were several other people Twittering about having problems with “Watch Now” last night as well.

When I called Netflix the third time they confirmed that they were having problems with their watch now servers last night.

Overall I’ve been pretty happy with the Netflix Watch Now service so far. Fast forwarding and rewinding are a bit of a chore, but other than that, once you’re watching your show it’s seemed to work pretty well.

Having their service go out for much of last night (and a Saturday night at that) is a huge fail though. If Netflix wants people to seriously consider their service as an alternative to cable/satellite (and the market for Netflix is huge if you think about them that way), then they need to do a better job both with their main streaming service as well as their customer service when their service fails. Particularly being 20 minutes into a TV show and at a very tense point of the show, to have Netflix hang for two hours and fail (finally giving up in frustration) doesn’t score any points with trying to convince the wife on why this service is better than cable/satellite service.

Hopefully last night’s experience won’t be a repeated one for Netflix and hopefully it’s not just the tip of the iceberg in terms of their problems in meeting viewer demand for streaming content.