Last week was a big week for Netflix.
First, the company’s Silverlight-based web player received a major makeover. The most noticeable changes of the long-overdue update are the picture, which now hits the edges of the browser window rather than appearing as a box within the window, and the control bar, which now appears as an overlay when the mouse is moved over the video. Other new features include the ability to preview additional episodes of a TV series without interrupting the stream, title info that pops up when the video is paused, and revamped controls that are icons instead of text.
The Netflix iPhone app has also been treated to a series of updates, most notable of which is the option to stream exclusively via WiFi. Gone are the days of sky-high bills from exceeding monthly data allotments. Now, when iPhone users are in a location with a remembered WiFi network, the phone will automatically use it instead of mobile data to play Netflix films, reducing 3G data usage.
The mobile update also includes a bundle of other features to make viewing Netflix content on Apple devices an easier and more pleasant experience. The app now sports larger controls, thumbnails on the scroll bar that enable users to jump to a specific scene, and simplified access to the player’s settings. The update is solely for the iPhone for now, but Netflix has told Android users to stay tuned for a similar update in the near future.
Those who no longer use Netflix also received good news recently. Following a class-action privacy lawsuit, the company has agreed to delete former users' video history and queue data within one year of a customer's cancellation of service.
All of Netflix’s latest changes seem to be paying off – Netflix has now dethroned Apple as king of the online movie biz in the US. Though Netflix claimed only 1% of the total online movie business in 2010, it leaped to 44% last year. Apple, however, fell from 61% in 2010 to 32% last year and Hulu, Netflix’s closest competitor in the subscription video on demand market, is just 10% Netflix’s size.
Netflix appears to be back on track after several missteps in 2011, but the triumph may not be built to last. Video on demand (VOD) services are likely to grow at a faster rate than subscription video on demand (SVOD) services this year, meaning that Netflix's digital customer base in the US is likely to expand at a slower rate in 2012.