Opinion: Why I don't like Netflix – that much

So, I finally did it.

After undergoing a couple months of hypnosis delivered via fancy, red-tinged advertisements dancing provocatively across the television screen, I signed up for a one-month free trial of Netflix (see, advertising really does work).

You have likely heard some of the buzz surrounding the Los Gatos, Calif.-based company, not least because it’s been kicking some serious tail. A third-quarter 2010 report pegged its user base at nearly 17 million and growing (for a year-over-year growth rate in subscribers of around 40 per cent, give or take).

Income and revenue are also on the rise at the firm, founded back in 1997.

But the hubbub up north has been outright deafening, after Netflix began offering Canadians a chance to subscribe to its video streaming services over Internet-enabled gaming consoles, mobile devices or Internet-enabled televisions this past fall.

The real beauty, in Canada at least, is that after the free trial ends the service costs a paltry $7.99 per month for unlimited use.

$7.99! Per month!

“Why do I even rent movies anymore?” I asked myself, feeling a fool after reading blog posts predicting Netflix’s imminent destruction of Blockbuster and other video stores in Canada. “Why do I even have cable anymore?”

Needless to say, I was so fired up that I’d developed a slight twitch by the time I powered up the PS3 for our first Netflix session.

Only then did I discover the service’s selection – or lack thereof – in Canada.

It was something of a disappointment. The most recognizable films I could find in the database were along the lines of All About Steve and after that, things began to really get spartan. Titles like Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus and Ice Twisters began to regularly make appearances during my browsing session, and I quietly began to worry.

I then discovered that in the States, the $2-billion company offers tiered plans featuring hot new content, along with a DVD- and Blu-Ray-by-mail service similar to what Zip.ca does so well here in the Great White North.

But in Canada, only a streaming service with limited content is available (although admittedly, there are some very good older movies and more recent television shows, such as whole seasons of Mad Men, available for Canadian users).

The company is also looking to expand in Europe after a successful launch here, but will no doubt face tough competition from U.K.-based Lovefilm, which offers mail-order movies, streaming movies and even on-demand video games.

Meanwhile, Netflix currently won’t say what new content it hopes to unleash on unsuspecting Canadian users in 2011.

Recent statements by the company seem to imply that despite consumer complaints regarding selection, not many people have cancelled their service. Apparently, that means there’s no problem.

"There's a cross section of people that I think were expecting it to be all new releases and they were disappointed but … it hasn't hampered retention or acquisition of members, those who have come on and complained about it stayed on because there's a treasure trove of stuff to watch,” Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey told CBC in a recent interview (Netflix did not immediately respond to our request for an interview).

That’s probably not surprising, since its monthly cost is roughly the same as renting one high-definition movie on Rogers On Demand (though users must be sure to keep an eye on their bandwidth cap while using the service, as serious movie-watchers can rack up mountains of data usage).

Indeed, with such a minimal cost one almost feels like a cheapskate for even complaining, much less cancelling.

But does Netflix really want to be known as the B-movie provider of choice in Canada?

I doubt it, but perhaps it does.

In the meantime, you’ll probably find me watching back-to-back episodes of Kate Plus Eight.

I know the show sucks, but how could I not when it’s so cheap?