The Annoyance Of Vanishing Netflix Watch Instantly Titles

December 10, 2008


I noticed something when updating my Netflix Watch Instantly queue the other day: a significant number of titles are due to vanish come January 2009, some at earliest December 25, 2008. A quick calculation reveals a whopping 1/3 of the movies I have lined up are due to expire.

This is obviously, to say the least, annoying. For starters, there’s simply no way I’ll be able to watch all these vanishing movies before year’s end (43 in total). Second, this totally flies in the face of my oft-stated quest for video nirvana – which does not include videos appearing and disappearing from the library according to the whims of the content rights holders.

Anyhow, a recent CNet article sheds some light on this situation, talking about video release “windows”, and how they affect both Netflix and Apple:

“Release windows” is the term used to describe periods of time a certain media is allowed to show a movie. Typically, a feature film is first released in theaters, then on DVD, followed by pay-per-view channels and finally on broadcast TV.

Normally, release windows don’t affect retailers or video-rental services after they’ve begun selling or renting films… but Internet stores are being treated differently. What this means for iTunes and Netflix customers is that movies will pop in and out of the services.

So it’s not any fault of Apple or Netflix, but the whims of the studios.

And later in the article:

One studio exec said Hollywood is trying to manage the transition to digital but is trying to do it in a way that doesn’t kill their biggest money makers. “It wouldn’t make any business sense to do it any other way,” said the source.

As I see it, Hollywood runs the risk of killing the growing, up and coming business model of Internet-distributed video before it even gets off the ground. But it’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. By trying not to kill their biggest money makers, they don’t allow a new service – which is obviously a potentially lucrative future – to really take off.

All I can say is myself, and everyone else with an Apple TV or Netflix Watch Instantly is sitting here, waiting for cool movies to rent. But so far, the selection is lacking, and the prospect of titles getting yanked with little notice puts a real question mark around my enjoyment and trust of the system. It makes me feel like the library is in real danger of shrinking, not increasing, and the selection will be in a constant state of half-assed, semi-interesting content. That’s not a good path to enlightenment.


  1. Best of luck reaching the video nirvana. The service is very nice but the expiration of available movies is a big problem.

  2. Wordster says:

    Yeah, it annoys me to! So good that there are those workarounds..

  3. Daniel Choi says:

    Just launched: a website to make it easier to find Netflix titles available for instant watching. It also tracks the expiration dates.

  4. webomatica says:

    Hey that's a pretty slick, fast website – I'll check it out in more detail shortly

  5. Tim King says:

    I noticed that some of the movies in my Watch Instantly queue that were slated to vanish, they suddenly became available again. It appears that the studios decided to renew NetFlix's license after all.

    Even so, indeed, the studios are acting stupidly. By making titles available on NetFlix wn and other online services, all they can possibly do is to increase their viewership and thus their revenue. But they seem to have this idiotic idea that any viewership they get online is at the expense of DVD sales… or TV viewership… or something like that. I can't quite seem to make sense of it myself.

    But then again, I understand that the people who watch movies on TV are not the same people who watch NetFlix wn, and vice versa. So you want both, as long as both are still making money for you.


  6. JimB says:

    JOIN ME IN MY PROTESTS! I will no longer put up with these movies with expiration dates. As soon as I see them in my queue, I delete them from watch instantly and my DVD queue as well – I'll never watch them. The licensors need to figure out they're alienating viewers, and come up with a better approach. No more watch instantly expiration dates for me.