Is Netflix Worth It?

Jenna writes in:

My husband and I have been talking about signing up for Netflix, but we’re just not sure if it’s worth the extra monthly bill. Do you have any thoughts or pointers?

Sarah and I have been on-again off-again Netflix users for most of the past decade. Our experience taught us a few things about Netflix – and about some broader money and personal issues related to watching DVDs.

First of all, Netflix really does what it says that it does. You get DVDs in the mail along with a return prepaid envelope. You can keep the DVDs as long as you want and watch them at your convenience. When you’re done, drop them in the envelope and stick it in the mail. It takes between one and two days for you to get a DVD in the mail. Plus, you can watch many of the items Netflix has available directly on your computer via internet streaming.

In all my years as a Netflix customer, the only issues I ever had were a few scratched DVDs, which were handled easily on the Netflix website. As a service, it does exactly what it claims to with very nice customer service.

The question really is do you actually need this service?

One reason that many people subscribe to Netflix is that they believe they’ll use the service a lot. They think of all of the movies and other media they’d like to watch, imagine receiving it in the mail (meaning no hassle at the video store), and they sign up.

But that’s not the reality of the situation.

Before we ever tried Netflix, we would watch about three movies at home per month. When we first signed up, we blew through a big pile of DVDs in the first month or two – a honeymoon period.

After that, we watched about three movies at home per month. And, to put it quite frankly, that wasn’t enough to warrant paying a monthly subscription fee to Netflix, not when we have quite a few friends who are happy to swap DVDs with us all the time and Redbox is easily available to us if we want to watch a new release.

Having Netflix doesn’t change your movie viewing habits beyond the honeymoon period unless there are other adjustments in your life. If you enjoy watching films or watching television series on DVD – and you do this quite often already – then Netflix will probably be a service that you get your money’s worth from.

However, if you don’t watch many movies now and you’re only considering subscribing because you imagine you’ll watch a whole lot more because it’s more convenient, you probably won’t, at least not after the honeymoon period (where you watch a flood of them at first).

That’s not to say no one who subscribes to Netflix doesn’t begin to watch more movies – I know of at least one person who unquestionably does. However, Netflix wasn’t the root cause of that change. That change in how he spent his time was a personal choice to spend more time watching films than to engage in other activities, such as World of Warcraft. This could have been done without Netflix at all – Netflix merely made his new hobby substantially less expensive.

If you watch less than a movie a week at home, Netflix probably won’t be worth it to you. If you watch a movie or more a week at home, Netflix probably will be worth it to you. What matters is your already-existing film watching habits – Netflix alone won’t change them.

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