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Netflix拆分后患无穷

Netflix拆分后患无穷

Dan Mitchell 2011年09月21日
Netflix将自身业务一分为二的大胆举措赢得了许多人的喝彩。但这并不意味着其前途将一帆风顺。

    里德•海斯亭斯决定将Netflix拆分为两家独立的公司,一家主营流媒体业务,另一家(即将被命名为Qwikster)将继承Netflix的“遗产”,经营DVD业务。海斯亭斯此举赢得了评论人士的一片喝彩,他们甚至援引《创新者的两难境地》(The Innovator's Dilemma)一书,以示支持。该书作者是克莱顿•克里斯腾森,于1997年出版,出版后受到了普遍欢迎,论述了当现有市场充满了技术创新时,企业应如何应对市场由此发生的根本转变。这部分评论家呼海斯亭斯实乃天才,因为他洞悉时务,认识到流媒体业务才是视频租赁业务的未来。

    这些人也许说得不错,但是,Netflix的分拆举措其实有几点非常值得警惕。其中最明显的一点是,租碟坐在家里观看的人,没几个真正关心颠覆性技术和创新者的两难境地。他们只想看看电影,越便宜、越方便越好。Netflix宣布将其定价计划一分为二之后,市场上掀起了轩然大波。本周二,反对之声又数次升温,原因在于客户很想知道,Netflix这一最新举措到底会对他们带来什么影响。主要是,他们认为,此举只会给他们带来更多麻烦,而Netflix此前上调价格已经让许多人有些不情愿了。

    Netflix这次业务拆分动了真格,两块业务将在两个网站上独立运营,两块业务的客户也将收到两份不同的计费账单。从根本上说,尽管将业务一分为二从长远角度看可能不失为明智之举,但对于该公司的流媒体业务而言,此举带来的巨大风险简直是立竿见影。

    原因在于:对Netflix的DVD业务和流视频业务来说,版权法的应用方式截然不同。根据首次销售条款(First Sale Doctrine),Netflix可以依其所愿,租赁任何DVD。一旦它拥有了某个DVD,该公司就有权按自己希望的价格,将之租借给任何想看这张DVD的人。不幸的是,对于流视频业务来说,情形就完全不同了。在流视频业务领域,权利始终属于内容所有者,这些所有者收取的许可费要高得多,而且很可能许可费很快就会涨到天价。此外,这些所有者还能决定哪些视频可以进入流业务,哪些不能。对许多客户而言,尽管DVD租赁业务需要通过邮递来完成,由此会带来一些不便,但相较于流业务,它可能更划算。

    此外,在Netflix宣布拆分之前,如果它无法获得某个特定视频的流媒体业务权,它还可以向客户提供DVD租赁服务。因此,媒体公司也就更有理由放权让Netflix将其视频内容纳入流媒体业务中。Netflix拆分后,这种动力几乎荡然无存。原因在于如果Netflix无法获取流媒体业务租赁权,它就得将客户分流到另外一家截然不同的公司去租借DVD,尽管这家公司仍然归Netflix全资所有。

    这可不是小事。随着流媒体业务逐渐取代DVD租赁业务,后者终将消亡。此言不假。海斯亭斯在写给客户的“致歉信”中表示:“流媒体业务与通过邮递租赁DVD业务正日益成为两块截然不同的业务,其成本结构也截然不同,收益不同,而且销售方式也不同,因此我们需要将这两块业务分开,让它们独立成长并运营。”

    这段话中的关键词是“成为”。如果流媒体业务中可供付费下载的好电影跟DVD业务一样多,而且成本也一样,那Netflix应该做的就不仅仅是将DVD业务分离出去,而是应该将之完全抛弃,那样才合情合理。不幸的是,无论对于Netflix还是对其客户来说,这块市场整个就是一片混乱,许多电影都尚未纳入到流媒体业务中来,而且未来定价到底会是何种情形,也根本说不准。此外,一旦电影果真广泛地纳入到流媒体业务中,也很难说到时情形又会如何。届时Netflix是否依然是市场的主要参与者?没人能够断言。

    译者:大海

    In applauding Reed Hastings' decision to split Netflix (NFLX) into two separate companies, one for streaming and one (to be called Qwikster) for the "legacy" DVD business, several commentators have cited The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen's much heralded 1997 book about how to deal with fundamental changes to existing markets wrought by technological innovation. Hastings is a genius, these commentators have declared, in recognizing that the future of video rental lies in streaming.

    They might be right, but there are a few huge caveats. The most immediate one being that people sitting at home trying to rent and watch videos probably aren't thinking much about disruptive technologies and innovators' dilemmas. They just want to watch a movie, as cheaply and conveniently as possible. The loud backlash that ensued after Netflix split its pricing plan in two is being turned up several notches today as customers wonder how this latest move will affect them. Mainly, they see it as only making their hassles worse, on top of the price increases many of them are already coping with.

    More fundamentally, though, while spitting the business in two (this is a real split – the businesses will be run separately, operate on separate Web sites, and customers of both will get two separate billing statements) probably makes sense in the long-term, it poses serious immediate risks to Netflix's streaming business.

    This is because copyright law applies very differently to Netflix's DVDs and streaming videos. With DVDs, Netflix can rent whatever it wants thanks to the First Sale Doctrine. Once Netflix owns a DVD, it has the rights to rent it to whomever it wants, at whatever price it wants to charge. Unfortunately, that's not the case with streaming video. There, the rights stay with the owner of the content, and those owners are charging more in licensing fees, and might be charging way more very soon. They also decide which videos can and cannot be streamed. DVD rentals, despite the relative inconvenience of rental by mail, might look like a bargain by comparison for many customers.

    Furthermore, Netflix until now had the option of giving customers access to DVDs if the company couldn't get streaming rights to a particular video. That gave media companies a further incentive to allow Netflix to stream their videos. That incentive is now mostly gone, because if Netflix can't get streaming rights, it will have to shunt customers off to a completely different company (albeit one wholly owned by Netflix) to get the DVD.

    Not that this is an easy problem. DVDs will eventually fade from the scene as streaming replaces it. It's true, as Hastings wrote in his "apology" to customers, that "streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently."

    The important word there is "becoming." If there were just as many good movies available via streaming as there are on DVD, at the same cost, it would make sense for Netflix to not merely spin-off the DVD business, but to drop it altogether. Unfortunately for Netflix and for its customers, the market is a total mess, with lots of titles not available for streaming and with future pricing highly uncertain. And it's unclear what will happen when movies do become more widely available via streaming. Will Netflix even be a major player at that point? Nobody can say for sure.

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