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  • Writer's pictureMatt Ferguson

You will own nothing and be happy

Netflix's latest effort in stanching its hemorrhaging user base has proved unpopular but, perhaps, ultimately necessary. The stalwart streaming giant has recently announced plans to crack down on users who share password (which, ironically, Netflix encouraged during the early 2010s). Set to go into effect on August 22nd, the new policy creates 'homes', which are physical locations (like your home--thanks for the clarification, Netflix) that are tied to your Netflix account. By default, each plan includes one home, and more can be added for an additional cost. See all the gory details below:

This seems to be Netflix's ham-handed attempt at dealing with a problem it has historically had very little control over: password sharing. These aren't good optics for Netflix, but the decision is probably good and necessary, from Netflix's point of view, in light of declining customer numbers, an increasingly threadbare catalogue of shows, and Netflix's own poor spending decisions. Will this drive away more customers? No doubt. But the bean counters have no doubt done their calculus that the increase in revenue will offset the losses from alienated watchers.

Why all the focus on Netflix? Because Netflix is a bellwether. They've been around for a long time and they have the video-as-a-service thing down to a cold science. When it comes to password sharing, no streaming platform is excepted; the Hulus and Amazons of the world are probably tangling with the same problem, and if they aren't now, they will be, soon. What does this have to do with you, the subscriber? You were used to your cable bill going up at least once a year--and being the most expensive utility you pay for--right? So who cares if Netflix charges another $3 a month so you can watch stuff in more than one 'home'? Philosophically, maybe some readers out there don't care about being nickel-and-dimed during a historic cost of living crisis, but I imagine many of you do care.

What can be done? We're probably all feeling a bit wistful for the days of DVD collections, as it stands. Price increases in digital services, coupled with onerous digital rights management and constantly shifting availability of digital catalogues, are indicative of a much more troubling problem in our digitized economy: you don't really own much of anything, anymore. We've reached a point in the evolution of capitalism where even heated seats have become a service, not a tangible product you bought when you bought the car they were attached to. There are plenty of status quo'ers who will defend the right of publicly traded companies to maximize profits for their shareholders, no matter how bad things get. Good for them--I'm sure the companies they've invested in will be there for them when they fall on hard times. As for the rest of us, it's time to reconsider ownership in the digital age.

Streaming video platforms have become the new cable TV, as was predicted by some, years ago, at the genesis of the 'cord-cutting' phenomenon and the rise of streaming services like Netflix. If you're spending $70 a month on streaming stuff and renting movies, are you doing much better than a basic cable package, in terms of value? It should come as a shock to no one that streaming services and the companies that own them are largely the same players from the cable television age of yore: Comcast owns Xfinity, Walt Disney owns Hulu, Dish Network owns Sling, and so on. The names and faces may have changed, but the song remains the same. And what happens when these media monoliths decide to sell the rights to a movie or a TV series, or to simply memory-hole it and pretend it never existed on their platform? Too bad for you--you can simply enjoy a mediocre selection from their rotating catalogue of garbage!

It's a bit dystopian, isn't it? "You will own nothing and be happy", to paraphrase Ida Auken, Dutch MP, in her essay to the World Economic Forum in 2016. At least, as far as digital video goes, you do have another option: host your own content. We used to warehouse VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray collections in our homes, which no one really seemed to mind until the siren call of on-demand video hit the scene in the early-to-mid aughts. What I propose is even simpler: purchase two large capacity hard drives, configure them in a RAID-1 array, build up a modest home server around that array, and put all your music, movies, and TV shows on it. Easier said than done, right? The fact is you still can own your own content. You can buy movies on discs and rip them to a digital format that can then be streamed, with an assist from an app like Plex, to your smart TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone. In the case of Plex, there still may be a monthly fee involved (although they sell pay-once 'lifetime' subscriptions), but that alternative is much more palatable to me than handing my money and my dignity to a panoply of streaming video giants who couldn't give a damn about my time, my privacy, my security, or my interests.

Geek Housecalls would like to help you cut the cord from cutting the cord. 'Everything-as-a-service' has become perverse; in this simple way, you, the customer, can democratize the shows and movies you love and tell the likes of Netflix that you're not going to pay for something you never really owned anyway.

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