207 Days

· Joanthan Poritsky

I just put a red Netflix envelope in the mail for the first time in quite awhile. I couldn’t remember when I had even gotten the film in the mail, so I looked it up. March 3rd. 207 days ago. For 29 and a half weeks, the disc had been sitting in my house, unwatched.

That’s 7 billing cycles.

Up until this month, my 1 Blu-ray a month plan cost $11.99. That means that single disc cost me $83.93. Sort of.

See, I use Netflix’s Watch Instantly service quite a bit, especially for catching up on television series. I watch it on my iPad, sometimes (but rarely) on my iPhone and constantly on my television through a Boxee Box.

Quantifying the value of Watch Instantly can be a bit tricky. Netflix does retain detailed records of everything you watch, when you watched it and for how long you watched it, but some of the numbers are a bit weird. When I watched The Big Lebowski on March 6th, for example, Netflix logged that as 3 hours and 23 minutes. That’s about an hour and a half longer than the film’s actual runtime.1 Suffice it to say, the website’s watch log is inexact, but it’s all we’ve got.

In the time I’ve had this one disc at home, I’ve watched about 60 hours of Watch Instantly. In 7 billing cycles, that’s about 8.52 hours a month. Under Netflix’s new pricing, streaming only is $7.99 per month. I’ll stick with that figure for my streaming math and the remaining $4.00 for my 1 Blu- ray. Thus, while that 1 disc gathered dust at home, I spent some $55.93 on streaming and $28.00 to rent this one movie. I spent less than a dollar ($0.94) an hour on Watch Instantly content, on average.3

Netflix as a streaming only service is a pretty great deal if you find something you want to watch. For discs it’s a different story. Under Netflix’s new rates, which will carry over to Qwikster, a single Blu-ray at a time costs $9.99 per month without streaming included. In that case, that single unwatched disc would have cost me $69.93, 25% more than watching 60 hours of streaming content over 7 months.

Of course, it’s entirely my fault for not returning the disc and having another one sent. If I had kept a disc from a video store this long, I’d have probably paid a substantial late fee4 so I have no real complaints about how Netflix’s disc service works. The question now, of course, is whether or not discs are worth paying for if my return habits are so lax.

Prior to this marathon rental, I had a disc for 112 days. Before that I was on the 3 Blu-ray plan and had 3 films for 69 days. I didn’t watch any of them. There are a number of contributing factors to the erosion of my disc diligence, and perhaps I’ll go over some in another post. It’s worth noting that I’m not necessarily a typical viewer. I see a great deal of films in the theater and I also go to press screenings, film festivals and get screeners sent to me. This breakdown is purely anecdotal, but I gather I’m not alone.

At $4.00 a month for Blu-rays, Netflix was the best deal around. Now? I’ve got to decide if it’s worth keeping around.

  1. Perhaps I paused the film or did some fast forwarding that were all logged as watch time? ↩︎

  2. I’m rounding down to account for some of Netflix’s odd math like on Lebowski. I’m basically throwing 42 minutes out the window. ↩︎

  3. Not until I got Netflix, and certainly not until streaming came into vogue, would I consider calculating media value by hour like this. What’s a unit of streaming measurement? An hour? A program? A sitting? I’m only using hours here to make the math a bit easier, but note that I wouldn’t measure a disc the same way. If I had rented, say, Schindler’s List, which spans two discs, I would count that as a single film. ↩︎

  4. If I recall, when I lived in Philadelphia, TLA’s maximum fine was $60 for grossly overdue videos. I had to pay it at least twice. ↩︎