Is Netflix’s Inventory Of Streaming Content Growing Fast Enough?

Earlier in the year, Netflix signed deals with Twentieth Century Fox, Universal and Warner Brothers agreeing not to rent new DVDs by mail for 28 days from the date the DVD goes on sale. Yesterday, Netflix confirmed it has agreed to a similar deal with Sony and the 28-day window for their content. In exchange for Netflix agreeing to the studio's terms, Netflix says they get access to more digital content allowing them build up their inventory of streaming titles faster. But the problem I see with this approach by Netflix is that their inventory of streaming content hasn't really grown by a large percentage over the past two years.

In January of 2008, Netflix confirmed it had about 12,000 titles available for streaming. In September of 2009, ads on their website put that number at 17,000. Today, it appears that Netflix has about 20,000 titles for streaming, although Netflix won't confirm that number for me. If that number is accurate, it means that Netflix has only added about 4,000 movies a year for the past two years. That's not a lot of content.

The problem I have with these deals is that neither Netflix nor any of the studios are willing to say just how much digital content Netflix gets or how new any of that content is. If this deal is so good for Netflix users, why won't they give out any specifics? As a Netflix user, I want to know what I am getting by giving up the ability to get new movies by mail when they come out. I would think Netflix would want to reinforce that with customers by telling them that they may not be able to get new movies, but look at all this other great stuff you get in return. Netflix simply tells their customers that these deals are good for us, with no details for us to decide for ourselves.

Why should we believe that the consumer is the one that is really going to benefit from this when it appears that only the studios and Netflix benefit? Because Netflix agrees to the 28-day window, the studios charge Netflix less for the DVDs when they go to buy them. And because of the window, the studios get to try and sell more DVDs to us, even though consumers are asking for more first-run digital content. We're not asking to buy more DVDs. So I see the benefit to Netflix and the studios, but what about the Netflix customer?

I'm sure many will point to the recent licensing deals Netflix has done with EPIX and other content owners to argue that Netflix is growing their inventory of digital content quickly, but the number of titles available for streaming don't back that up. Netflix is spending a lot of money now on licensing digital content, yet the company doesn't answer any questions about what their inventory looks like, the number of titles available, or any details on how old or new their digital inventory is. And while Netflix is quick to tell us about all the new licensing deals they do, they never mention when many of their older deals expire and that content is removed from the watch now inventory. The number of titles available for streaming is going up, but based on everything we have seen so far, I would argue that Netflix's inventory of digital content simply isn't growing fast enough.

Disclaimer: I am a long time Netflix customer and love the service.

  • Id say YES… Not only not growing fast enough, but in my opinion, not yet large enough to be valuable on its own. In fact, this is the reason why I dont yet have a Netflix account. I dont watch DVD’s but there are very few titles available via stream… Anyways, great article – just my 2 cents.

  • Very nice article and thanks for useful information

  • Steven

    Have to agree with everything you say. It’s not growing fast enough.

  • GV

    Agree it’s not growing fast enough, and even with the 28-day rule, the gap between physical media and stream is huge from my customer point of view, the amount of titles by themselves don’t count much as how much of that content is “wishable to be watch” … what I see is that gap of new content to stream compared to DVD is still too big

  • FM

    As while back Reed Hastings said they wouldn’t give out the total number of streaming titles any longer because it wasn’t reflective of quality. The quality today is no comparison to the past. Just look at all the TV shows you can stream right up to the last season, 24, Prison Break, etc.
    Anecdotally, I can tell you this. A year ago, most older stuff I wanted to watch wasn’t available. These days, practically half of the content I search for is instantly available. You should do some searches for the top movies and classics and see what I mean.

  • GB

    It takes time to build and its certainly getting better by the week. Everytime I look it seems I have more options.
    Like the person above me notes, every time Reed speaks he says he won’t give out the number of streaming titles. Netflix could have 50,000 streaming titles by the end of the month, that there would be no quality.
    I’d rather Netflix patiently build a quality product

  • Andy

    I don’t want to speak for Rob, and perhaps his comment speaks for itself, but maybe what he was saying in an oblique way was that the # of streaming titles may not be the best way to measure the quality of streaming available. Because NFLX is paying up for these studio deals on high-quality content, they may be substituting the high-quality newer release content for the back-catalog material they have had there previously. The math of the economics mean that the substitution rate will not be one-for-one. The fact that the number is still increasing, albeit slowly, while the quality is clearly increasing, is impressive. One has only to look at the company’s gross margins to see that NFLX is not pocketing the difference themselves.

  • Agree it’s not growing fast enough for the consumer’s taste, but it’s definitely growing faster than the competition – compare to Apple TV, Google TV etc. and Netflix is on the right track – they just need *more*. So the statement “fast enough” needs a bit of a qualifier – fast enough to stay ahead of the competition? Arguably, yes. Fast enough to satisfy consumers, no.

  • Greg Andrew

    It would be more interesting to know how many titles Netflix offered at some point during this year rather than the number of titles Netflix offers at one time

  • Michael

    Mark said: “I dont watch DVD’s but there are very few titles available via stream…”
    BS. That hasn’t been a valid complaint for 2 years.
    I have no interest in new releases. Netflix’s strength is television series (new and old), documentaries, classic films, foreign films, old and low-budget horror, and just about anything from the ’80s. The only thing missing is new releases, which almost uniformly suck.
    I ditched cable a year ago in favor of Netflix, and have never been without thousands of viable options.

  • Mason lists 9220 “shows” breaking down as follows: 759 TV shows, 22 Web shows, and 7583 movies. Obviously there are a ton of episodes among those 759 TV shows. Here’s the link: Use the “filter by media type” to drill down. They also recently posted that Netflix just added 1k new titles:

  • stencil

    Netflix also makes it to0 find out what’s available for streaming. Their search function just sucks. Ever try to get an alpha list of all titles released in say 2010, or 2009? Not possible. And, of course, the newer the release date, the thinner the catalog.

  • That sounds like plenty to me. There’s no way I can watch everything in my instant queue. Of course, I can’t queue up every movie that I might want to see, but there’s still plenty of content.

  • tk421

    I am super impressed with the instant streaming. We watch stuff through streaming literally every day and never run out of content.
    That said, I like classic films, foreign films, as well as mainstream stuff. And they have a lot of good TV shows, too.

  • andyw

    I’m evaluating Netflix streaming-only movies/tv for my free 30 day trial, and then possibly $8/month thereafter. I’m very disappointed that a great percentage of what I want to watch (like all the movies with Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant; or old tv shows like Hawaii Five-0 or Star Trek) is available on DVD only.
    Also, the search capability is terrible. It should have lots of available filters, such as, and especially this, a “Streaming Only” filter.
    So often when I search I click on search results, and only then (after that extra click mouse step) I see that what I want is available on DVD only, and I see an upgrade offer. I have no intention of upgrading. I’m already sick of the damn upgrade offers. This alone is causing me great frustration.

  • cskg26

    We recently signed up for the 30 day free trial of Netflix’s streaming-only service. We’re not even a week into our trial and are already frustrated with the lack of streaming content, the continuing offers to upgrade, the unfiltered search feature (filters such as “streaming only” and “by year” only seem natural), and for those of us who enjoy watching foreign films, but aren’t crazy about the subtitles .. streaming doesn’t currently offer you the same viewing options as a DVD.

  • Dan

    In the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed that there are some shows that were previously available for streaming that no longer are. Is NetFlix’s inventory actually shrinking? What would be the reason for removing streaming content?

  • Yea, Netflix confirmed this appropriate solution but the problem I see with this approach by Netflix is that their inventory of streaming content hasn’t really grown by a large percentage over the past two years. 😉

  • Michael K

    I found this article because I wanted answers to those very same questions. As long as Netflix is willing to provide those simple answers, then I am unwilling to sign on for more.