Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rooting for Netflix (no really)

I realize I've been a bit rough on Reed Hastings and the Netflix business plan and strategies. There are real reasons to be concerned about how the company is being run and how business journalists are covering it, reasons that often get glossed over in the standard narrative, but, in an attempt to add some balance, though, I'm afraid I may be leaving the wrong impression.

For all its problems, there is a lot to like about Netflix. It is, by many metrics, a successful company. In an age of free media, it has built a substantial base of paying customers. It provides a pretty good service at a very reasonable price. Most importantly, Netflix introduces diversity into the dangerously inbred world of major media.

Minor media is fine, as a musician friend of mine recently observed, the people now control the means of production. Anyone can record and mix an album or produce a movie. If, however, you need access to a large budget or a mass outlet or, perhaps most vitally, any kind of press (mandatory Weigel link), you pretty much have to deal with a handful of massive companies, some terribly mismanaged, others oblivious to the interests of the general public, all focused on creating a less and less diversified landscape.

Netflix offers a healthy counterbalance to that concentration of power. That counterbalance is particularly important given that the company's two main competitors are Amazon (speaking of unhealthy concentration of power) and Hulu (one of the most flagrant antitrust violations in recent memory).

I'd really like to see Hastings and company make a go of it. That's one of the reasons I wish they were better at their jobs.

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