29th Apr2020

‘Netflix vs. The World’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Features: Marc Randolph, Nick Shepherd, John Antioco, Corey Bridges, Dawn Chmielewski, Jim Cook, Ben Cooper, J.W. Craft, Tracy DeSoto, Tom Dillon, Boris Droutman, Vita Droutman, Shane Evanfgelist, Gerrad Hall, Mitch Lowe | Written by Gina Keating | Directed by Shawn Cauthen

Based on the book Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America’s Eyeballs, Netflix vs. The World is an intriguing look at how Netflix came to dominate the streaming video landscape – from the early days of DVD rental by post, the companies “almost” sale to Blockbuster and their rise into new technologies of streaming subscription services. All told by those that were there from the beginning, including Netflix co-founder Mark Randolph… Though unfortunately Reed Hastings, the OTHER co-founder and current CEO of Netflix is nowhere to be seen outside of old archive footage.

Ah, the heady days of rentals. First it was VHS, where stores pooped up overnight seemingly offering an endless parade of weird wonderful and sometimes downright obscure movies to an eager public. I was one of those people. I loved going to the local video store and renting tapes. In fact I rented some tapes so many times that the local video store owner sold me his copies at a discount as I was the only person interested in them! But I digress.

But with good reason… You see Netflix started out life around the same time my video renting and buying habits exploded. Yes, it really was that long ago. In fact, surprisingly, Netflix was born out of the explosion in video tape rentals, with co-founders Reed Hastings and Mark Randolph looking for the next big thing , the next big start-up, in Silicon Valley in the mid-to-late 90s. A fruitless search for that next big thing until – thanks to the launch of DVDs in 1996/7 – the idea of DVD rental by post came to Randolph and Hastings.

But who knew it would become such a success? No the guys at Netflix, whose servers crashed the very first day. It’s also remarkable to note that the very idea of the DVD rental subscription service, such as staple in the days of DVD – complete with return when you want policy, queuing up titles to rent and being automatically sent one when you return your last rental AND paying a set amount of month, no matter how much you rented – was created out of desperation somewhat. And thrown together as a last-ditch measure to improve the status quo at the time. It worked and that fact it worked created a whole new operating procedure at the time, where many other companies – including the UK’s very own Lovefilm followed.

But that wouldn’t be the first “fluke” in the journey from start-up to global giant for Netflix. Along the way there would be the burst of the dotcom bubble and a disastrous meeting with Blockbuster… and we all know how that ended up! All the stories are told in a frank and refreshing way that really opens up the story every one has read but here the stories are given a more human edge.

But Netflix vs. The World doesn’t rush to tell the story of the victory over the biggest rental company in the world. Instead the documentary focuses squarely at the battle between the two, telling the story from both perspectives, with some truly refreshing takes on the situation from from Blockbuster execs, who freely admit that mistakes were made; how Blockbuster tried to fight back with a move in to the online space AND a huge subscription price war and how eventually Netflix’s real power turned out to be brand loyalty. It’s this conversation with both sides of the “battle” between what was the brand leader and the upstart who’s purpose, they freely admit, was to disrupt Blockbuster’s command over the market, that is the most fascinating. Especially with a group of interviewees like those in this documentary, who all pretty much are open books when it comes to telling this story.

The latter portion of Netflix vs. The World finally touches on the move into streaming post-battle with Blockbuster. But after spending such a long time talking about struggles and issues before launching the Netflix we know now, the discussion of of how Netflix created streaming services as we know them and how the company’s success killed video stores, seems almost braggadocious. Though thankfully this portion of the story does eventually pivot to tell the tale of Netflix’s mistakes with its DVD rental service, now know as Qwikster, and how it initially killed all the goodwill and brand loyalty that won the DVD rental war for Netflix. And how there’s a new war coming, with powerhouses like Disney, Amazon and cable providers such as AT&T and Comcast taking the fight to Netflix – who are now in the same place Blockbuster was many years ago. How times change…

Netflix vs. The World is an intriguing, fascinating look at the rise, fall and re-rise of a company that truly is a game-changer in multiple industries and in multiple ways. Check it out for yourselves – the film is available to rent or buy now on – of all places – Amazon Prime.

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