Tuned In

It’s Not TV. It’s Not HBO. It’s Streaming. But Is It Worth It?

Netflix's streaming service is growing, but not fast enough to please Wall Street. Are original series what it's going to take to get you to sign up?

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Netflix announced yesterday that a lot of people are using its streaming service. But not enough for Wall Street; the company’s stock dropped on the announcement of the number and of its earnings. According to a New York Times report, the video service had earlier expected 28 million subscribers by the end of the year.

The news got me wondering: if you’re one of those 25 million, why do you have Netflix and what do you use it for? If you’re not, what would get you to sign up?

We may not have entered the era of widespread cable-cutting yet, but there are more and more options for watching TV outside normal network distributors, each with its advantages and drawbacks. Netflix, Hulu Plus et al. in theory offer a kind of TV nirvana—an endless library of show and movies to watch anywhere, anytime. In practice, the library is not yet endless, as anyone who’s tried to stream many movies and TV seasons can attest, while in other cases “anywhere, anytime” isn’t quite the case: network agreements keep many shows off mobile devices and set-top boxes.

So what makes a streaming-video subscription worth it? Netflix is betting that, like its sort-of-competitor HBO, the key could be original programming. Next year, it launches the original drama House of Cards, with Kevin Spacey, and the revived Arrested Development. (For the sake of completism, I also have to mention this year’s Lillyhammer.) HBO found that having Sex and the City and The Sopranos would keep people re-upping consistently, even if they weren’t using it for movies. Hulu has been expanding into programming also, but on a smaller scale, largely importing shows like the current run of The Thick of It.

Will that do the trick for you? I’m probably not the best example to judge by: I have both Netflix and Hulu, but I’m paid to watch TV, so there’s a low bar for me. Currently, Tuned In Jr. Jr. is using our Netflix streaming to work his way through every season of Malcolm in the Middle, for instance. For me, it’s one of many (maybe too many) services I use for research on old programming and to catch up on shows I missed first time around. But would a couple series make me buy the service if I didn’t watch TV for a living? Maybe—but if this is the TV way of the future, I’m not sure how many such services I would buy to get a series here and a series there.

So you tell me: what makes a service like Netflix worth it to you—or what would it need to offer to be worth it to you?