Remember when Netflix was the future of the entire media industry? First it created a DVD-by-mail service that made the entire Blockbuster era look like a bad joke. (Remember late fees? Remember the horrible selection, with nothing before 1983?) People nostalgic for Blockbuster are like aging Russian widows who lay flowers at Stalin’s grave. Then Netflix accelerated us into the era of streaming video, creating a massive archive of instantly accessible movies and TV shows. Last May, a study found that Netflix accounted for a fifth of all the internet traffic in North America.
Of course, like all successful internet companies, Netflix’s early victories were built on a beautiful rainbow cloud that was perpetually two seconds away from dropping everyone into a volcano of sadness. Which is a bad metaphor to explain how Netflix’s success rested entirely on its content partners: The studios and networks that gave it those movies and TV shows. So it’s understandable that Netflix would attempt to trim costs (by doubling their subscription cost). It also makes sense that they’d jumpstart a host of original programming, which thus far includes the good-in-theory House of Cards, the bound-to-disappoint Arrested Development reboot, and whatever Lilyhammer was.
But now Netflix is taking the curious extra step of essentially time traveling to an era before Netflix existed. Reuters reports that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been meeting with major cable companies, with the intention of adding Netflix to their roster. It’s not clear exactly how Netflix would be added — Reuters claims it might be an additional On-Demand option. But Hastings himself threw down the gauntlet last week, when he told an investor conference that the major cable companies “would like to have a competitor to HBO, and they would bid us off of HBO.” (Awww, Showtime. Ugly duckling, wah-wahhhh!)
So, in business terms, what we have here is a beautiful and untested newcomer with a recent history of missteps facing off against a battle-hardened veteran schemer that might just be vulnerable to attack. I like to imagine that Hastings received a phone call from HBO last week, and the voice on the other end of the line said: “I know who you are. I can see you. You’re swearing now that, someday, you’ll destroy me. Remember that far better companies than you have sworn to do the same. Go look for them now.” Rome was so awesome, you guys.
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