What follows is pure speculation. Seriously, I have no proof if Netflix Ultra is a response to the death of net neutrality. It makes sense though. What does this have to do with Libraries? The TL:DR is that I believe Netflix is trying to use social engineering by creating Netflix Ultra to reduce bandwidth usage.
What is Netflix Ultra?
Currently in the U.S. there are 3 plans. Basic, Standard and Premium. Netflix Ultra is a streaming plan that Netflix is testing in Europe. It costs €16.99, and it allows people to stream to 4 devices in High Dynamic Range (HDR), or 4k ULTRA HD. To stream in in HDR, Netflix states that you need 25 Megabits per second. As the Engadget article notes, some people feel the Premium and Ultra plans are very similar despite the price difference. You should see the whole Engadget article for details.
What does this have to do with the death of Net Neutrality?
Let’s talk about tariffs for a second. So… President Trump just placed a bunch of tariffs on our trading partners. Regardless of how you feel about the man, this is something the blue-collar workers of both parties asked for in last election. As a result, retaliatory tariffs were placed. Now things like appliances are going up in price. Many retailers place artificial dates on when they go up. For example, the place where I recently bought my appliances from set the date of July 1. The prices went up 20 – 30% depending on the item. Each company has its own reasons, but it is partially to account for the uncertainty in the market. You can read more about the uncertainty the tariffs are creating in this fortune article.
Like the tariffs, the death of net neutrality has created uncertainty in the market. However, unlike tariffs, many companies effected don’t have a proven game plan for how to handle it. They know things might cost more for them soon. They know that the administration is unfriendly to them, but friendly to the internet providers. They know that it’ll be really bad for them if they get caught in the middle of a political covfefe between the right and the left. Netflix is happy airing Queer eye and taking the money from the majority of Americans, but they don’t want to risk alienating their audience of westerns like Longmire.
What is a Netflix to do?
Well, the logical thing would be to test out plans in less contentious markets at different price points to see how people respond. They can test pricing, features and PR while avoiding the nastiness of the political market where the response to everything from everyone is tears and boycotts. Then Netflix can roll out their Ultra Plan once they know Comcast is ready to abandon the “we are the good guys we swear” line. It’ll be something they were “testing for months”, and it’ll be to cover “increased costs of delivering HD video”. It won’t be because despite it’s popularity among both the right and the left, Net Neutrality is dead.
Will this stop you from using Netflix?
Oh, definitely no. I would even upgrade to the new plan if my internet was more reliable. However, I don’t think the plan is just to make money. It’s to make money off the people who know and care about streaming HD OR the people who don’t know but want that status. It’s an act of social engineering. When we stream there is the bandwidth we use to bring it into our homes, but also the bandwidth Netflix uses to send it. I believe that the change in the plans is meant to reduce the amount of bandwidth Netflix. So it’s less about making money off the plan than saving money on bandwidth.
What does this have to do with libraries?
We use a lot of bandwidth. From libraries Wi-Fi, people stream movies, music and download files. In the near future, I can see the cost of this service rising dramatically due to the death of net neutrality. I’m not alone in this expectation. See this Q&A with Tony Marx, President of NYPL on The Verge. Can we learn from the Netflix approach to reducing bandwidth usage? We can't charge for our services, but can we find a way to use social engineering to encourage people to limit their own usage of high bandwidth services on library computers and wifi? How can we test different strategies out without being disruptive? How can we use social engineering to reduce bandwidth usage without disrupting customer experience?