Friday, November 21, 2008, 11:11 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
That was the reaction that VideoNuze reader and digital media public relations executive Jeff Rutherford had after downloading the "New Xbox Experience" (or NXE) to his Xbox 360 and activating Netflix Watch Instantly. Jeff relayed the details to me in an email and phone call yesterday, adding that it felt comparable to his (and many others') first experience with TiVo.
Hyperbole? Maybe. I'm always mindful about how gadgeteers' early wows seem to melt away when new technology products reach the broader mass market. Still, the Xbox 360/Netflix Watch Instantly integration seems promising on at least three fronts.
First, Xbox 360 is a relatively mainstream device that has its own clear value propositions, thereby driving a sizable footprint that is only going to grow. Second, Netflix's Watch Instantly is a value-add to its subscription service, requiring no incremental fees, or special new add-on hardware to Xbox 360. And third, as Jeff reported, it was very easy to get going: he was given a code to input online and when he returned to his Xbox, his Watch Instantly queue was displayed there, awaiting his on-demand selections.
These benefits - large distribution, no extra fees, no new hardware and easy install/strong user experience - are all key to a successful broadband-to-the-TV service. But equally, if not more important is content selection and value. This is where the Xbox 360/Netflix implementation hits a speed bump, at least for now.
As I explained recently in "Netflix Should be Aggressively Pursuing Broadcast Networks for Watch Instantly Service," today's windowing model puts the company is in a serious bind with respect to getting top-flight Hollywood films. While Jeff reported seeing some strong titles like Disney's Ratatouille (and other films he noticed carrying the Starz watermark), the reality is that Watch Instantly's catalog is still a small sliver of Netflix's DVD-by-mail catalog and will remain so for some time to come.
Further portending the difficulties of what's ahead for Netflix as it navigates Hollywood's minefields is early word, courtesy of Joystiq and other blogs, that all of Sony's Columbia Pictures movies have been disabled for XBox 360 Netflix users, due to licensing issues. While we may all be rooting for Netflix to find deal terms with Sony and the others, the realist side of me says that Hollywood's overseers understand that the Xbox 360 integration (and others TBD) have real significance in the relentless push to digital delivery. So before the proverbial horse gets out of the barn, they want to ensure the right deals are in place for them to capture appropriate value.
While that drama plays itself out, Netflix would be wise to do everything else it can to bolster Watch Instantly content value and selection. As I wrote in the prior post, incorporating broadcast programs should be a top priority. Also high on the list should be well-branded, high-quality broadband-only content.
Netflix has a very interesting opportunity to accelerate the Watch Instantly adoption curve, leveraging the huge installed base of Xbox 360 users and Microsoft's UI improvements (more on NXE's new look at Engadget if you're interested). With proof of its success in hand, Netflix's negotiations with recalcitrant studios can only be helped along. Meantime, Xbox 360 is getting another strong (albeit likely temporary) value proposition to compete in the game console space. And consumers win - as Jeff pointed out - by gaining ever-better access to the content they want.
What do you think? Post a comment now.