Many, many people were driven to distraction by my recent offhanded claim that Netflix didn’t really work for us in the context of a plan to keep up with our various favorite television programs. In that post, I basically stated that our best plan for keeping up with programs we like and skipping out on ones we don’t like is buying and selling television series on eBay, a season at a time.
An aside: before I get started on why Netflix isn’t cost effective for us, among the suggestions for a “better” solution was a TiVo with a lifetime enrollment. Unfortunately, this plan isn’t available for new customers. Plus, you’ve got upfront costs and you’re limited on channel availability to what you subscribe to.
So why isn’t Netflix cost-effective? First of all, I need to draw a clear picture of our television viewing habits. My wife and I watch roughly an hour of television per day. We have very specific series that we enjoy watching, but we don’t really like watching the same show over and over again. In fact, we like being able to space out the episodes of a series about a week apart so we don’t get sick of it. In short, we love the depth of continuing dramas, but we don’t want to be bombarded with many, many nights of consecutive episodes. Remember, one of our goals is to replace cable television in our lives as a cost-saving mechanism.
In short, we want to be able to enjoy long non-repetitive and sequential runs of our favorite shows, but not consecutively; we want to watch them spread out over several nights. Let me give you an example: we currently have six DVD series at home. Every night, we watch one episode of one, then the following night, we watch an episode of another one, and so on in a round-robin fashion. This enables us to be able to stretch these six box sets into about four months of television viewing.
So, let’s see what that costs, assuming we buy the series new. I’m going to assume a ballpark average of the season sets at $35 new. We’ve seen many on sale recently for $20, so this seems about right. We would be spending roughly $50 on DVDs per month if we bought them new. Obviously, this has some great advantages: we can watch whenever we like without worrying about having them at home or not.
Now, what if we bought them used on eBay and kept them? If you do some eBay searching, you’ll discover the cost for a season of a series drops by about 40% if you buy used on eBay only from reputable folks. This means that a season costs about $20 on average. Given our viewing habits, we would be spending about $30 a month on DVDs if we bought the seasons used and kept them. This is much better than new, obviously, and has almost all the same advantages.
Let’s keep going. What if we re-sold the watched series on eBay? By doing this, we reduce the cost of having a season to merely the cost of packaging and shipping: perhaps $5 per DVD set. With this program, we would be spending $7.50 a month on DVDs. We still maintain most of the advantages of owning the sets – watching what we want at our own pace – except that we don’t keep them long term. We’re also not factoring in the idea that many people love to give DVD season sets as gifts in our family, and we would be able to include these in our program and drop the cost even more. With that caveat, our cost per month would be about $5.
Now, Netflix does have some advantages over this; the biggest one, obviously, is the film catalog. However, they have one monster disadvantage that really can’t be overcome: you can only have a small number at home at once. We like to have our DVD series in rotating order so we don’t get sick of them. In order to use the Netflix “service,” we would have to change our viewing habits and compress the series quite a bit.
Let’s say we signed up for the 3 DVDs at a time plan for $17.99 a month. We get three discs worth of our favorite series in the mail and start watching them. Each disc has four episodes on it, so on the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth days, we drop discs in the mail. We then hope that we have new discs back on the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth days, which isn’t a guarantee. An even bigger problem: we’re compressing the series down quite a bit; we’re watching an episode every three days of the same series, which pushes hard against our thresholds, even if we really enjoy a series.
The conclusion? Netflix doesn’t offer a plan that matches our needs – or our acceptable cost levels. The only plans that come close don’t fit our viewing requirements very well and are much more expensive.
Netflix is a great service for many viewing patterns, but it is not a be-all-end-all service, especially with the pocketbook in mind. What Netflix really sells is convenience – and for us, it’s not convenient. Using our plan, over a year we can save about $200 versus using Netflix and be much happier with our programming.