Interesting Wall Street Journal article by Matt Phillips arguing that Netflix may be altering people’s DVD habits, noting that the constant availability of Netflix DVDs may actually be leading to DVDs sitting on people’s shleves (or in their queues) for weeks or months without being watched. As Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of culture and communication at New York University, describes it, it’s “a paradox of abundance,” something that I’ve experienced over the last year as I’ve uncomfortably tried to adjust to using Netflix rather than renting movies from an independently-owned video store.
To be fair, I’m still watching a lot of movies, but for whatever reason, that is happening less often on DVD. I’ve found that when I rented from video stores, it was much easier to gauge what kind of film I’d like to see, and the late fees, even if they were relatively minimal, were punitive enough to motivate me to watch and return movies quickly. I’ll be curious to see how that changes now that I’m in F’ville and have less access to the art house and indie movie scenes in Atlanta and DC, but so far, I’ve been ambivalent about using the video service.
Among other notable observations, Phillips points to an experiment described by Daniel Read, George Lowenstein, and Shobana Kalyanaraman, in which subjects were asked to choose from a list of 24 movies what they’d like to rent. When choosing movies to watch immediately, subjects were more likely to choose “low-brow” action or comedy films, but when asked what movies they’d like to see in the future, many subjects would choose “high-brow” films (I need to read the full article to find out how “low-brow” and “high-brow” were defined). To some extent, these results do reflect my current Netflix practice, with my Netflix queue ambitiously loaded with films I ought to see or TV series (namely The Time Tunnel) that I need to watch for my research. But potential access to these films and TV shows makes it easier to delay seeing them, and many of the DVDs that do make it to my apartment collect dust for weeks and occasionally months (I think my personal record is having a DVD collect dust for three months before I gave up and returned it).
The WSJ is a pretty good overview of the topic, and it has the added bonus of a quote from Girish on his Netflix habits.