Those who make use of Netflix's ever-popular "Watch Instantly" streaming service rent fewer DVDs than the rest of the population, a Netflix executive revealed during the company's quarterly earnings call on Monday. The phenomenon reinforces the fact that online offerings really do compete with physical media for the same pieces of the movie pie, and that could prove worrisome for Blu-ray as online video continues to grow in popularity.
During the call, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings noted that there were millions of subscribers using the Watch Instantly feature, and that Netflix had seen a "substitution effect" among subscribers who do so. Our money is on it becoming a mainstream behavior. Online video has gone great guns with the likes of YouTube, but movie rentals and streaming stumbled badly out of the box. Users now have a plethora of compelling options to choose from, and that's going to take a bigger bite out of DVD and Blu-ray as time goes on.
Of course, the physical vs. digital debate doesn't affect Netflix that much, as customers have to subscribe to one of the regular monthly DVD plans in order to get access to Watch Instantly in the first place. In fact, Netflix announced a 26 percent increase in subscribers year-over-year, and a 19 percent year-over-year growth in revenue, and Hastings made a point of saying that the company's margins would go up if the streaming trend continues.
Outside of Netflix and the online video niche, the trend can only mean bad things for physical media like traditional DVD and Blu-ray. Customers have shown that they're willing to settle for high-definition (and, in some cases, standard-definition) online offerings--either in the form of streaming from places like Netflix, or VOD and downloads from Amazon or the iTunes Store--in place of walking to the corner Blockbuster or even waiting for a DVD in the mail from Netflix. Why wait when you can get what you want now from the comfort of the perfectly butt-shaped dent in your couch or computer chair? And in HD, no less?
Don't get us wrong; Blu-ray is guaranteed to be the physical HD format of choice going forward. But the proliferation of high-speed Internet access and increasing availability of download services as well as set-top boxes means that Blu-ray is going to face challenges that VHS and DVD never did when they were at the same stage of their lifecycles.