Netflix policy leaves frequent renters cheated

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    Like a loyal, loving relationship gone sadly awry, the magic has fled from my romance with Netflix. Don’t get me wrong – as a film enthusiast and rent-a-holic, I still have an appreciation for the ubiquitous online movie rental business. There will always be a fond place in my heart for the ever-so-convenient service that usurped Blockbuster in nearly all respects.

    In the beginning, I, like many others, signed up for a two-week free trial with Netflix. I must confess that those two weeks were nothing short of magical movie-rental bliss.

    I gleefully added dozens of films to my Netflix queue, enthralled by the mind-boggling selection. Rabidly awaiting for the postal truck’s arrival to my mailbox became a daily ritual – I’d dash out to my mailbox in hopes that a wonderful, familiar red envelope containing my next Netflix DVD would happily be waiting for me.

    Yes, during that two-week tryst – err, trial period, rather, our relationship blossomed into a beautiful Internet movie-rental service and film-fanatic love affair. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

    However, I noticed that the magic began to fade when the free trial ended. Although I had become a fully committed, dutifully paying subscriber, I was no longer receiving DVD’s at the same speedy rate. In fact, my wait time between rentals increased as my subscription wore on longer. I consulted Google, curious to find other Netflix faithfuls experiencing the same slow service woes.

    Much to my dismay, I wasn’t the only one being “throttled.” (Yes, that is an actual term coined for the deliberate slowing down of DVD delivery speed by Netflix shipping locations.) It would seem that by initially courting the trial subscribers with lightning-fast shipment, Netflix lures them in to purchasing a subscription. It’s a bait-and-hook tactic that many fall prey to – and I am admittedly one who took it – hook, line, and sinker. Definitely fishy.

    More specifically, I discovered that Netflix implicitly reserves faster service to the customers who rent fewer DVD’s, i.e. those who do not fully take advantage of the “unlimited rental” promise.

    Netflix admits to giving priority to customers who rent less frequently, a fact stated in its Terms of Service, revised in March 2005: “We reserve the right to allocate and ship DVDs to you in any manner that we, in our sole and absolute discretion, determine … In determining priority for shipping and inventory allocation, we give priority to those members who receive the fewest DVDs through our service. As a result, those subscribers who receive the most movies may experience next-day shipping and receive movies lower in their queue more often than our other subscribers.” Ouch.

    So Netflix sticks seasoned subscribers who frequently send and receive DVDs on the backburner. Really taking advantage of the “unlimited monthly rentals” Netflix so proudly boasts may subject subscribers to dramatically slower delivery rates.

    Regardless of “maximizing profit” or saving money on postage or whatever business-as-usual explanation Netflix wishes to make for throttling their subscribers, I feel that as a consumer there’s something inherently wrong with giving certain customers a higher priority over others based on rental frequency. Beyond that, it’s irksome that a paying customer may receive DVDs at a slower rate than a nonpaying trial subscriber.

    I also feel that Netflix should either change the way they advertise its “unlimited” rentals, or offer equally efficient service to all of its customers. What’s so wrong with wanting to take advantage of the unlimited rentals Netflix promises? After all, we’re still paying for it. Shouldn’t we still feel more appreciation?

    Lesson learned: Netflix serves its purpose for the casual renter, but for film fanatics looking for a committed, constant, dependable rental relationship, it does not make a fiercely loyal companion.

    It’s bitter tale of loving and leaving. And though I admit that I still use the service infrequently, I am deeply disenchanted by the notion of being throttled by any means.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who would kindly urge Netflix to share the love among its subscribers and not leave its most frequently renting customers to forlornly wait for days on end by their empty mailboxes.

    Rachel Gollay is a junior radio-TV-film major from Rockwall.