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Qwikster Goes Qwikly: A Look Back At A Netflix Mistake

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NETFLIX QWIKSTER CANCELED ENDED
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If there is one downside of Netflix's decision to cancel Qwikster, it is that Jason Castillo, the semi-coherent, weed-curious high-schooler who owned the Twitter handle @Qwikster, never got to extort Reed Hastings and his company for all the money that he could. The single bright side in the monumentally stupid Qwikster fiasco was the existence of @Qwikster; there was an unspoken hope that the totally undeserving, totally unprepared and likely totally blazed owner of that Twitter handle would somehow stumble into a large financial payday from Netflix, which would have represented some kind of victory-by-proxy for all of those customers stupefied by Netflix's stupefying decision to split the services in the first place.

Qwikster was a dumb idea. Dumb, dumb, dumb. It should certainly be a first ballot entrant into the Bad Decision Hall of Fame, enshrined next to New Coke, Prohibition and that time Garth Brooks dyed his hair black and played rock music under the name Chris Gaines. Better choices have been made at 24/7 Las Vegas chapels after too many Limoncello shots.

In its month of existence, Qwikster did nothing but foster ill will toward Netflix. The assumed purpose of the split--to enable Netflix to focus its resources and energy on acquiring streaming content and to phase out the less profitable, less popular DVD-by-mail service--was never well-articulated. Qwikster was pitched, in a blog post and accompanying video, as a way to offer users more convenience, though the entire concept of Qwikster seemed anything but: Netflix was all but forcing its 12 million customers with joint streaming-DVD accounts to create two accounts, at two different domain names, with two credit card statements and two different sets of ratings and preferences, all on a new website run by a guy who couldn't even spell the word "quick" correctly.

Well, if Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is to be believed, there might not even be a DVD-only side of the company for long. One sentence from Hastings' blog post announcing Qwikster stands out: "DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible." This indicates, to me at least, that Netflix doesn't want to be in the DVD business for much longer. With Netflix continuing to focus its efforts on acquiring new content to stream, and with the DVD rental section being apparently a low priority, look for Netflix to ax its postage-heavy DVD-delivery service sooner rather than later. People may want to cling to their DVDs, but Hastings is confident that the future of media consumption is not in physical discs, but rather in streaming, over an Internet connection, and he wants to usher in that future ASAP.

Hastings knew that his company needed to phase out DVDs, but traveling the Qwikster route could not have gone worse. Because for all of the (deserved) moaning over the inconvenience of the very idea behind "Qwikster," the name was always what pushed it over the top into the highest realm of ill-conceived business plans. Qwikster never would have received such mockery or derision if it had been called something that approached a respectable name for a media company, something like"Netflix By Mail" or "Netflix DVDs"--unless, I suppose, @netflixdvds was the active Twitter account of an acid-dropping sixteen-year-old porno addict who never met a vowel he couldn't remove from a word.

Qwikster sounds like a lot of things--a super cool startup from 1998 that's going to be totally rad and revolutionize the way you "surf" the "web"; something a cop in a 1930s talkie picture might call an elusive criminal; a nickname for Rainn Wilson's genitalia--but a DVD-by-mail service in 2011 it does not. Had the DVD website been given a more suitable, Netflix-branded domain name, the split would have simply been an awful strategic move; that it was dubbed Qwikster, and that the avatar for the Qwikster Twitter account was an illustration of beloved Muppet Elmo smoking marijuana, only served to increase the perception that no one at Netflix knew what they were doing.

The embattled CEO of Netflix has done a good, smart, honorable and difficult thing by axing Qwikster. He has shown that he is not insensitive to the demands and grievances of his customers, and that he is not afraid to admit, in public, that he has made a mistake. There is also the possibility that the most exciting development from Qwikster--namely, that Netflix would be getting into the video game business--is still on: A Netflix representative told tech blog SplatF that the company is "still considering" renting out games. Good for them, and good for Hastings.

What is not good for them, or good for Hastings, is that the existence of Qwikster is not an awful collective nightmare that will vanish upon waking. The very real Qwikster debacle is still a reality, as is the bungled price hike and aftermath. The misstep suggests to the public that Hastings is out of touch with what his customers want, a perception that a CEO cannot afford to have. It was a smart decision to mercy-kill Qwikster as quietly as possible before launch--even if it did prevent the rubber-necking American public the catharsis of watching it fail--though Netflix is still a damaged, blemished company in the wake of Hastings' four months of mistakes. Hastings has righted his wrong, but he has not elevated the company back to that high point of consumer confidence where it once so comfortably lived.

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