Whenever someone talks about frugal expenses, Netflix  always seems to be the popular example held up as the sacrificial lamb to the frugal gods. I think it’s a popular target because it’s so easy to attack. Subscribers pay a flat monthly fee to watch movies, a pure discretionary entertainment expense, and so many times our lives get in the way. Movies sit on the table unwatched, unreturned, and the only cost is a flat monthly fee. It’s all too convenient and so it makes an inviting target.
Before I was a convert I had no idea why people signed up for Netflix  and took my fair share of shots at Netflix. So what changed my mind?
Online Streaming Video
Getting the DVDs sent to our house is only the beginning of the service and, quite frankly, the least valuable. I enjoy movies but on my list of entertainment options, movies aren’t near the top of the list. However, the online streaming video options that Netflix offers include lots of television shows that aren’t carried on sites like Hulu. If you want to watch the past seasons of popular television shows, Netflix has plenty of them available streaming to your PC or TV. If you like PBS documentaries, they have those (or History Channel, or any number of documentary-laden channels). DVRs are nice, but the show has to be broadcast before you can record it. 🙂
XBox Live Integration
The clincher for me was integration with XBox Live, which is the online service for Microsoft’s XBox 360 game console . This puts the entire library of Netflix’s online content at your disposal because the XBox is already hooked up to the TV. You don’t have to fiddle with connecting your computer to the TV and streaming the video that way, it’s all set up.
Six months ago, the process of watching shows or movies on the XBox was tedious. You had to add shows or movies to your Instant Queue before you could watch it on your XBox. Now, you can search the library from the XBox without having to add it to your queue first. You can still add things to your instant queue if you want (and we do, it’s easier than searching for it).
To take advantage of this you’ll need an XBox, XBox Live Gold membership , and a fast internet connection. So while the minimum plan is only $8.99, unless you have it set up then you’ll have to pay more for the infrastructure.
Review of Netflix Plans
Netflix  has a variety of plans starting with the $4.99 a month for one DVD out at a time (limit 2 a month) and 2 hours of online content to $16.99 a month for 3 DVDs out at a time and unlimited online content. I personally don’t see the value in getting the $16.99 3-DVD plan, at most I’d get the $13.99 a month 2 DVDs out at a time because it lets you keep one while one is in transit.
Here is a review of the four plans:
|Plan||DVD Limit||Online Limit||Cost|
|1 DVD out at-a-time||2/month||2 hrs/month||$4.99/mo|
|1 DVD out at-a-time||Unlimited||Unlimited||$8.99/mo|
|2 DVDs out at-a-time||Unlimited||Unlimited||$13.99/mo|
|3 DVDs out at-a-time||Unlimited||Unlimited||$16.99/mo|
Was Netflix Worth It?
Qualitatively, I think so. We are on the1 DVD out at-a-time plan plus unlimited instant watching for $8.99 a month. We chose that plan because of the unlimited instant watching, which is what you’ll need to get the XBox 360 integration I talked about above.
I went back to look at Feedfliks, which will take your Netflix account usage data and calculate the cost per movie, how long it takes for you to return DVDs, and other good statistical information to tell you whether you’re maximizing your usage. For us, it’s been worth it as our Relative Cost/Movie is at 40 cents each. Our usage is heavily influenced by our instant watching (25 shows or movies in the last month, 75% of which were TV shows).
Free 2 Week Trial
Netflix  offers a 2 week trial that can help you decide if you like it. It’s long enough to get a couple movies by mail, to see how long it takes to receive them, but the real value is that it lets you browse their library to see if they carry the things you like to watch. If you sign up for the trial, select a plan that gives you unlimited video so you can watch content online. If nothing else, you get two weeks of all the online content you can mash into your brain. 🙂
Do you use Netflix ? Hate it? Love it? Please share your opinion in the comments!
(Photo by brymo )