Netflix Beefs Up Its Online Streaming Content

Most of us still watch movies the old fashioned way: on DVD. Okay, maybe watching movies on DVD isn't that old, but for every $10 U.S. consumers spend on movie and TV entertainment, $8 of it goes to purchasing or renting DVDs... Which certainly makes us wish we bought Netflix stock when it first starting trading publicly in 2002. But DVDs won't remain the number one movie and TV source forever. And no, Blu-ray is unlikely to be DVD's ultimate successor either. The future--and it's not a very distant future--of movie and TV consumption is via online streaming.

Netflix knows this and it is why the company has been building its film and TV streaming library for the last year and a half. The problem is, the Netflix Watch Instantly selections have been rather disappointing, unless you are fan of documentaries or independent films. The enticement that the Netflix content streaming offered was not that great. That, however, is starting to change for the better as a result of a few strategic moves that Netflix has made recently.

First, Netflix partnered with CBS Television Network and Disney-ABC Television Group two weeks ago to add a number of current and classic TV shows to Netflix's live streaming library, such as Heroes, Hannah Montana, and Star Trek. (Some of the shows are available now, and others will be available later this fall.) Adding TV shows to its streaming library certainly beefs up the content options, but is not necessarily a unique feature, as many of these same titles can be viewed for free elsewhere, such as on Hulu or on the networks' own sites. (Albeit, the Netflix TV shows are sans commercials, and the image quality on Netflix is noticeably better than on Hulu.)

The second, and perhaps more significant partnership that Netflix announced today is with Starz Entertainment. Not only does this deal add another 2,500 or so movies to Netflix's existing streaming library of roughly 12,000 films and TV shows, but it also adds some sorely-need, recent A-list titles, such as No Country for Old Men, Superbad, and Spiderman 3. Most of the movies are older titles and classics, but they represent a noticeable step up from the rather non-Hollywood-based titles that have been the main fodder on Netflix's Watch Instantly feature until now. About 1,000 of the Starz-supplied the titles are available now, with the rest coming online "in the coming weeks."

Netflix's Watch Instantly feature is available at no extra cost to members of any of Netflix's unlimited plans (which range in price from $8.99 to $47.99 per month). Netlfix now also offers a "Starz Play Only (no DVDs)" plan for $7.99 per month, which offers "unlimited streaming" of Starz Play and the Live Starz TV Channel.

If you have the right equipment, the live streaming isn't even just limited to your Windows PC. Both the Netflix Player by Roku and the LG BD300 Network Blu-ray Disc Player also support instant streaming from Netflix. Xbox 360 owners with an Xbox LIVE Gold membership will also be able to view the Netflix live streaming starting in "late fall 2008." And Mac owners should rejoice that on the official Netflix blog this morning, "Brent" reported the following:

"And, for all of you Mac users (of which I am one) we’ve been busy working getting a solution that will allow you to watch instantly on your Mac. So hang in there - we’ll have something for you by the end of the year."

Depending on your particular movie and TV tastes, these partnerships might give you significantly more viewing options. As for the author of this news post, his Netflix queue currently has 256 movies [obviously, I have some time-management issues! -- DAB]; but only 12 of them are available to watch instantly and hardly any of them are new releases. Hopefully more titles will become available as Netflix adds more movies from the Starz library.