Beginning today, DVD-by-mail darling Netflix is offering its subscribers another option in the growing world of Internet-based video delivery. Netflix’s new Watch Now service will enable Netflix subscribers who install a special browser applet the ability to immediately watch TV shows and movies on their computers.
"We named our company Netflix in 1998 because we believed Internet-based movie rental represented the future, first as a means of improving service and selection, and then as a means of movie delivery," said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. "While mainstream consumer adoption of online movie watching will take a number of years due to content and technology hurdles, the time is right for Netflix to take the first step."
Watch Now is scheduled for a phased roll-out through the middle of 2007, offering the service to about 250,000 subscribers per week through June to ensure its systems can handle the video streaming demands. Videos available via Watch Now are considered rentals, rather than a download-to-own model like that offered by Apple’s iTunes store and others. But the streaming model also means selections begin playing in a few seconds, rather than forcing users to wait until an entire download is complete. Netflix says movies can be paused, and a position bar lets viewers jump to any point in a video.
Watch Now requiers a broadband Internet connection with a minimum of 1 Mbps downstream bandwidth, but the more bandwidth a user has available, the higher quality video they receive, up to DVD-quality with a 3 Mbps connection.
Right now, only about 1,000 movies and TV shows are available from Netflix’s larger catalog of over 70,000 titles, but the company plans to expand the selection of content as the service matures. And, Watch Now will be available at no additional charge to subscribers, although the amount of video users can view online depends on their Netflix subscription. Subscribers with an entry-level $6/month plan get six hours of online viewing time; subscribers with the company’s $18/month plan get 18 hours on online video.
Right now, Netflix’s Watch Me browser applet is requires Windows XP, although the company says it plans to expand the offering to other platforms and, eventually, to mobile devices.
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