Why Netflix Doesn't Really Care About HD

Only one in 12 Netflixers subscribe to the Blu-ray service, and at just 6% of their total streaming catalog, HD content is "underwhelming," according to Netflix. Two stories, one lesson: HD just isn't what matters right now to Netflix.

For all the marketing dollars thrown behind HD, Blu-ray is still a marginal technology when compared to DVD, the obsoleting of which is taking longer than many expected. That less than 10% of Netflix subscribers opt for the Blu-ray option isn't that surprising. In the larger context of Blu-ray adoption, this isn't too surprising.

What is surprising, though, is hearing Netflix actively downplaying the importance of HD content in this interview with The Wiire:

PS3 and Xbox users have 1 in 17 titles available in HD, and it's streamed in 720... it's not in 1080, and it's not in 5.1 surround sound or anything...So, the HD experience at Netflix Instant Watching isn't that overwhelming. It's a little bit underwhelming. So the Wii folks aren't going to miss that much.

Yep, that's Netflix Communications VP Steve Swasey. His job is specifically to make Netflix sound whelming, without the "under." And yet, in the context of the Wii, deflation. It's obvious why Nintendo would talk like that, but Netflix? Really?

Rest assured, there's a plan here. Netflix is wrestling with two inevitabilities: HD content will supplant SD content, and physical media for video will die. Netflix knows this, which is why they were willing to go along with Warner Brothers' irritating disc availability delays in the service of streaming deals.

By downplaying Netflix's HD content to help ease their Wii rollout, Netflix is rightly choosing customer expansion over video quality, which many customers wouldn't even notice. I mean honestly, it won't be long before recording movies to a disc, sending that disc in an envelope, inserting that disc into a DVD player and sending the disc back in the mail will sound like some kind of Rube Goldberg contrivance (when you put it that way, it sort of already does...), and when streaming video over IP will be the only way to watch movies, so if making 26 million Wii owners feel like their lack of HD support isn't a big deal is what it takes to convert them into subscribers in your eventual streaming mega-empire, Netflix, deflate all you want. [TheWiire, HomeMediaMagazine]