EDITOR COLUMN: Netflix’s alienation of the college student

Netflix came for the college student last week to crack down on password sharing. In what they now claim to be a mistaken update to their US support articles, the streaming giant suggested that they would be implementing strict rules regarding the habit, limiting their service to one account per physical household after once endorsing the practice publicly.

Bottom line is, Netflix doesn’t like that you’re using your parent’s account and wants you to pay for your own. To that I say, Netflix, you have severely overestimated your viewers’ willingness not to use their accounts to their fullest potential. With a single-screen, standard definition, ad-supported plan still costing $6.99 a month, it’s no wonder people would rather share an account at $5 a screen with no ads and 4K streaming.

For the catalog they currently sport, you will not catch me spending more to get less from Netflix. The Torch readership, and the internet in general, are behind me in this opinion too. 86% of surveyed Torch readers suggested they would not be resubscribing if they were kicked off an account they share. 

The internet exploded over this as well, with terms like “Netflix password sharing” and “#netflixisoverparty” still receiving thousands of mentions in tweets per hour several days after the article first went live. From my long scroll through these posts, I’d guess Netflix had one of the biggest subscription losses in a single week they’d ever seen, as consumers didn’t wait for their streaming fate. They decided it themselves.

The most egregious part of this entire situation is that it seems they would still have the audacity to limit the number of screens per account if they implemented this change. There was no mention in this article of the evolution of this element of the plan whatsoever. Even when everyone in my family is home, we can max out a four-screen plan simply trying to go to bed. This decision reads as an incredibly short-sighted one.

First, hordes of users — from college students, to nomads, to members of the military and those without WiFi — would lose access to the possibility of Netflix. Not only would they have to get their own account, but these strict rules make it so these people could not feasibly have an account. These changes would require you to connect your device and watch Netflix on it on your home WiFi network every 31 days, something that is tough for these groups of people.

Second, the catalog. The fact of the matter is Netflix is no longer the king of streaming. Losing ABC shows to Hulu, NBC shows to Peacock and oodles and oodles of other smash hits to the ever-expanding streaming landscape, stacking up to the others is a fight they’ll lose. For the limited catalog they still hold, and for the stark few originals I care about, a free trial month once a year should do fine.

Finally, from a business standpoint, I’m still lost on how this is going to increase revenue or help the business at all. If loads of people can no longer share their fancy $19.99 a month package, what draw will they have to pay that premium if they can’t use it to its fullest extent? Sure, some of the loss from downgrades will be made up with new accounts, but people cutting their plans totals to the tune of 30-50% is going to be a lot of ground to cover. Making content harder to access is going to put a dark cloud over all of your original content. People will have less incentive to watch it if the cost of entry, both literally and figuratively, is too high.

While we may not see this yet in the US, according to what a spokesperson for Netflix told The Streamable, if these changes do go into effect, I’ll no longer be a Netflix consumer.

“For a brief time yesterday, a help center article containing information that is only applicable to Chile, Costa Rica and Peru went live in other countries. We have since updated it,” the spokesperson said.

I can’t say I feel as though this was the type of accident they were trying to frame it as. Accidentally released it too early, sure, but I don’t believe this wasn’t intended for the US whatsoever. Grab an app like JustWatch and track where else your favorites stream, just in case a great password crackdown leaves you out in the cold.