Thursday, October 12, 2006

Speaking of Netflix

Speaking of Netflix, I came onto something interesting recently while not being able to access my Friends list (for DAYS, and whatever feature upgrade is going on better blow me away). As you recall, the DVD rental company settled a class action suit after it was proven by the most voracious users that there was in fact a limit being enforced behind the scenes that deliberately slowed down users’ delivery dates once a certain monthly limit was set. This became popularly termed “throttling,” and Netflix admitted that it was true.

They can still use the term “unlimited,” and they explain it like this: “In our unlimited plans, we do not establish a monthly limit on the number of DVDs you can rent, however, the actual number of DVDs you rent in any month will vary based on a number of factors.” These factors are explained in great detail deeper in the Terms & Conditions, where in sum they say “unlimited…except for… when you are being greedy.”

But Netflix Friends, the joke’s on us. Because while they settled for a paltry “free 1 month upgrade” (costs them nothing because they intend to throttle you – enjoy the upgrade), they get the last laugh.

The throttle is patented.

No. 7,024,381. US PAT OFF calls it “Max Turns”: “In this situation, up to a specified number of total items are simultaneously rented to customer 102 and up to a specified number of item exchanges may be made during a specified period of time.”

You’ve got to admire that.

You might be surprised to hear what I think about the throttle, as a customer who gets throttled hard around the 20th of every month, and has adjusted my consumption to compensate for it (Max Flix, if you will). When the “scandal” began to break that Netflix were not unlimited, I thought, “well of course they didn’t really mean unlimited.”

One pictures those canvas-bag toting cinemaniacs – so devoted to the movies that they can’t hold down jobs. (put that movie in your queue. Pray you are not one.)

Instead I thought, “that’s fair.” Then I found out it is actually formulaically designed, and even plans in a hedge against “rollover.” That is, they allow 3 flips per film, or nine films in a calendar month for the basic subscription, but the system doesn’t bank your flips if you don’t use them. So even if you have been their patsy for 6 months, sitting on the same films you started with, once you get wise and start flipping…. You don’t get any bonus points.

You have stopped reading, haven’t you? Everyone has politely coughed and slipped out of the auditorium except for the product designers and system engineers, the movie geeks, and my mother. Well, as long as we are alone….

I can’t say I have beaten the throttle, but I have learned to alternate feature films (say 2 hours in length) with series and mini-series (sometimes 4 hours) which maximizes the viewing time without over flipping.

I have a chart here somewhere. Hand me that canvas bag.


  1. I needed a good laugh today.

  2. why does it have to be that you always have to find some way to "beat the system"? i actually just cancelled my netflix membership because i wasn't even ordering enough movies per month to even need to be throttled.

  3. I would like the world to know that Drawing In's patience to not only READ the Max Flix patent, but to then interperet it for those of us known as "the human race" or "Net Flix customers" is the exact skill that pays her mortgage (and, ironically, funds her Net Flix habit).


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