They used to be called “commercials”

Netflix has been testing out the playback of video promos that play in between episodes of a show you’re watching. No joke. Shannon Liao at The Verge:

Users who have spotted the test feature have taken to (since deleted) Reddit and Twitter to voice their annoyance at having their show-binging interrupted by an ad for other shows. A bug appeared for some users where they were unable to skip the promo and had to watch a certain amount — like with ads on YouTube — before they were able to get to the next episode of their show. Netflix told The Verge that the video promos are supposed to be skippable and that the feature is not permanent. “We are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster.”

It’s not clear if this will ever get out of the testing phase, or what other shows Netflix would choose to promote in the middle of your couch-bound binge session. In theory they could sell that eyeball time the same way a traditional network sells advertising.

When cable television was new, the dream was that you’d pay a monthly fee in exchange for commercial free channels. This New York Times piece from 1981 is a perfect time capsule of that era:

Although cable television was never conceived of as television without commercial interruption, there has been a widespread impression – among the public, at least -that cable would be supported largely by viewers’ monthly subscription fees. These days, however, as cables are laid across the country and new programs constantly pop up to fill the gaping maw, cable experts are talking as glibly about the potential advertising revenues as they are about opportunities for programming.

Comcast and Netflix strike a deal

Netflix will pay Comcast for access to their broadband network. Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan reporting for Gizmodo:

What does this all mean for you? For one thing, Comcast customers are due to see some serious improvement when it comes to streaming video. But it’s an ominous sign for the ongoing battle for net neutrality—a far more complex issue at stake here. In January, a federal court dealt a death blow to net neutrality when it struck down the FCC’s open Internet rules, which demand, essentially, that all data be treated equal.

FiOS customers have been complaining loudly about alleged throttling of Netflix by Verizon, so today’s announcement carries quite a bit of weight.  One thing is for sure: the days of “open” internet are behind us.

Multiple Netflix user profiles coming to Apple TV

Tired of having your recommendations on Netflix clogged with kids shows?  I am.   Juli Clover at MacRumors:

According to multiple Twitter reports and a tipster who contacted MacRumors, individual Netflix profiles are now showing up on the Apple TV. The personalized profile feature, which is expected to be launched in August, will allow users of shared Netflix accounts to select a unique profile when accessing the service.

This looks to be rolling out later this summer.

How a television from Apple could work

Last night I watched some television.  Part of it was channel surfing on cable, and part of it was watching streaming Netflix on the second generation Apple TV.  Laid before me were three remotes: one for the cable box, one that came with the TV (to change the input source), and the aluminum stick from Apple.  It was almost as if I was living inside this slide from the original iPhone unveiling:

Unnecessary complication, made necessary by the state of the television and cable industries.  For years, companies (including Apple) have tried to change this dynamic with little success.  A lot of the focus from the press takes a “can you cut the cord?” approach to these devices, in that success for Roku or Apple TV equals the ability to cancel monthly cable TV fees.  Jobs himself felt this way about the cell phone industry, when he wanted the original iPhone to run on Apple’s own network, carrier-free.  In that case, Apple ended up brokering a deal with AT&T to provide the service and subsidize the price of the device for the customer.  So why not take this approach with the television industry?

What if Apple partnered with cable companies in the U.S. (for starters) to sell televisions that were tied to two year contracts with Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, or others?  Customers could buy the device from Apple or buy it directly from the cable provider, activate it using their existing Apple IDs, plug it in and start using it.  The television would have one simple cable input on the back that allowed both traditional live TV streams of content as well as data for streaming offerings from iCloud, iTunes, and others.  Apple would sell the hardware and control the user experience, the cable companies would retain (or add) customers, and the end user would have an entertainment system that made every other television on the market look like a complicated relic.  The possibilities from this point are seemingly endless: television networks as downloadable apps, an integrated gaming console by way of the App Store, and tighter integration with other iOS devices.

I’m having a hard time seeing the downside to this, but I’m sure the cable companies could help me out on that one.

And just like that

Qwikster is gone.  Peter Kafka at All Things D:

Qwikster, we never knew ya: Netflix has killed its plans to turn its DVD service into a separate business…

If you want to let your mind drift to dark thoughts, you could theorize that the reaction to the Qwikster announcement was so forceful that Netflix could see the results in its subscriber numbers.

Netflix shuts out the DVD

Netflix’s latest decision to amputate its physical DVD business from its streaming one is somewhat bold, but not at all surprising.  People who received the “humble” email from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings yesterday read the following:

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us). So we moved quickly into streaming, but I should have personally given you a full explanation of why we are splitting the services and thereby increasing prices. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.

Translation: working with tangible, physical media in a world that is moving to Internet-served media isn’t dead now, but we’re not going to wait until it is.  Cost increases caused by the inevitable rise in postal rates will be shouldered by the customers still using the mail, creating a firewall around the streaming customers who don’t.  And although the streaming and DVD businesses are owned and run by the same company, Netflix has stripped the iconic brand name from the latter.  Welcome to qwikster.com.  It’s a pretty goofy name, and one that doesn’t feel like it has staying power.  And that’s the point.

By tying its future fortunes and brand solely to the streaming business, Netflix is (desperately) hoping it can make deals with the studios to get better content served up digitally.  The Starz contract fallout will hit Netflix streaming next February, when Netflix stands to lose a LOT of content from Sony Pictures, Disney, and others that are wrapped up in the Starz deal.  Unless they can turn the tide, the entire company is toast.