Netflix 'Watch Now' Service Gives Instant Gratification
Netflix Inc. has introduced a new feature that will allow customers to download and immediately start watching movies and television series on their home computers. The new service is dubbed 'Watch Now' and will be rolled out over the next six months, starting with an initial choice of 1,000 films and TV series.
Subscribers to the Netflix service will be able to watch their videos on demand once they have installed a computer applet that enables video to be viewed at virtually the same time it is being downloaded. The company says this new 'immediate viewing' feature is much faster than other currently available services for downloading large video files.
Instant Gratification, PC Style
Installation of the browser applet is needed just one time and takes less than 60 seconds, the company says. From then on, most movie selections are able to begin playing on the customer's PC in as little as 10 to 15 seconds after the selection is made.
Movies can be stopped and paused, just like on a standard DVD player, and a position bar gives viewers the ability to jump to any point in the movie. The more bandwidth available, the better the video quality will be. Although the instant watching feature requires an Internet connection with just one megabit per second of bandwidth, three Mbps service provides the best viewing quality.
Netflix says that current subcribers to their service will be able to watch anywhere from six to 48 hours of video per month, depending on their subscription level, at no additional charge. Rates start at $5.99 per month.
The Los Gatos, Calif.-based company says it budgeted some $40 million to expand its data centers for the new service and to cover licensing fees for the first 1,000 movies and episodes that will be offered.
Netflix is looking to the future of the online video craze that is dominated these days by YouTube, the immensely popular video-sharing site. YouTube is currently ranked as the top video-sharing site on the Web, serving more than 100 million clips a day to its viewers. Indeed, online videos continue to grow in popularity all the time, as Internet connections get faster and Web surfers look for easily accessible video entertainment.
With the growing number of video sites, analysts believe the online video business will grow from $1.3 billion in revenue in 2006 to over $7 billion in 2010.
In fact, Skype, the VoIP service that allows users to make long-distance calls over the Internet, has also now jumped on the video-online bandwagon. Skype announced its own Web-television service called Joost, just yesterday, with the goal of offering the "best television on the Internet" while remaining piracy-proof.
Although Netflix leads the arena with its online operation for video rental, it still faces stiff competition. Blockbuster Total Access, for example, is also a hit with online consumers, having enrolled 500,000 new subscribers last year. Some users familiar with both services switch back and forth to determine which provides faster turnaround time and easier online ordering. While the jury may be out on that point, Netflix clearly wins in terms of subscriber numbers.
To begin, the Netflix 'Watch Now' service will be available only for computers equipped with Windows operating system, leaving many Mac users out in the cold, at least for the time being. And, with only 1,000 titles available for download during the initial launch phase, the Watch Now service offers much less choice than Netflix's own mail-delivery service that includes an impressive catalog of 70,000 films.
The company has plans for major growth though, as the service gains in popularity, indicating also that most major and independent studios are supporting the introduction of the new service. Some of the supporters named by Netflix include NBC Universal, Sony Pictures, and MGM Studios.
Netflix was founded in 1998 and positions itself today as the largest online DVD rental service, with some six million subscribers. The company says it spends over $300 million a year on postage to ship an average of 1.4 million DVDs to customers each day.
If the new download service catches on with consumers who want to watch their videos on a PC, that postage bill could go down significantly, even as the company grows.