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Jennifer Schwab

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Netflix Subscribers See Red, But Video Streaming Is All Green

Posted: 09/21/11 07:28 PM ET

When Netflix CEO Reed Hastings raised prices dramatically to discourage use of mail-in DVD service in favor of internet streaming, all holy hell broke loose with both customers and investors. The company has lost nearly half its market value since July and nearly one million customers have abandoned ship.

Amidst this fury, I began thinking about Netflix as a customer and as a environmental advocate. My conclusion is that while Mr. Hastings probably needs some brushing up on his bedside manner or maybe should attend charm school, his edict is a blessing for the green world. Alas, Blockbuster, R.I.P., and as much as I like popping a couple of those little red envelopes filled with my favorite films into my brief case so I can view them anytime or anyplace, this practice as well needs to end.

Logic prevails when analyzing the Netflix situation. Think about the amount of fossil fuels burned by thousands upon thousands of SUVs with well-meaning suburban mom and 60 pound kid aboard, driving in traffic to the video store to grab the latest new release of Twilight or Justin Bieber's Never Say Never. Or more recently, the U.S. Postal Service trucks and vans, filled with hundreds of thousands of those red envelopes, transporting them across the nation to the mailboxes of America -- and back. It is impossible to estimate the amount of fuel needed for this logistic.

Enter video streaming. From a green perspective, this is a brilliant way to save gazillions of gallons of fuel, and deliver movies to Netflix customers in real time. And while I feel badly for our continually shrinking U.S. Postal Service, the elimination of the red envelopes will save untold amounts of fuel and emissions since delivery and pickup is no longer part of the equation. Admittedly, the tens of thousands of computers, servers and televisions that will be used to view the streaming movies still create quite a bit of ambient heat. However, from a sustainability standpoint, the score is streaming one, delivery/pickup zero. Not to mention, Netflix will increase its profit margin by saving many millions on packaging, postage and handling.

A recent story on Gigaom quoted an NRDC study showing that streaming is vastly more energy efficient than other forms of movie watching. Netflix believes in this so deeply that it is splitting the company into two separate entities, probably in secret hopes that the DVD delivery side will be phased out. (The new "hard copy" DVD delivery and return side will be called Quickster.)

There will be some losses of jobs at both the Netflix warehouses and USPS, which again, I feel badly about. The overall result however speaks for itself: streaming video is way, way greener than any other way to watch a film. So, my sustainable friends, our recommendation is that you forget about the Great Netflix Controversy, cancel your Quickster subscriptions, and take the streaming-only portion of the subscription service. Here is another case where going green is not only the smart and environmentally conscious choice, but also good for the company. We like it, and Netflix will, too.

 

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