Friday, December 9

Rich Warren | Stealing streaming services is suspect | Science-technology

Would you steal a jar of Jiffy from Schnucks or a tube of Crest from Walgreens? Then why steal a subscription from Netflix?

People create all kinds of rationalizations concerning appropriating intellectual property. Most believe that one more pair of eyes watching a movie at home costs the purveyor nothing when compared with the actual physical unit cost of peanut butter or toothpaste. Not to mention that exiting a retailer with unpaid merchandise can result in a free trip to the local police station.

I am not a fanboy for Netflix or any other internet audio and/or video streaming service any more than I am for overpriced internet service providers. Unfortunately, in most cases, negotiating the price of peanut butter or “Game of Thrones” is not an option.

When I was a kid with my first open-reel tape recorder, I recorded borrowed LPs from friends. This saved the expense of buying the albums, although pricey tape in those days was inconvenient to play. I had no idea that buying the record supported the people who made the music. Rather, I lived under the impression that I simply was liberating the music from the evil, wealthy record label.

In the late 1990s, Napster represented the epitome of music stealing by placing thousands of albums online for free downloads. At that point, most of the population had yet to discover the internet as a music source, and the iPhone remained a glimmer in Jony Ive’s eye.

Napster inspired Steve Jobs to create an online store from which to buy music downloads for his new iPod. As usual with these things, he charged excessive fees, keeping most of the proceeds for Apple and sharing pennies with the artists. This continues today with Pandora and Spotify.

Recent Netflix fee increases are up $1 to $9.99 for the basic plan, up $1.50 to $15.49 for the standard plan and up $2 to $19.99 for the premium plan. The different levels represent standard definition, high definition and 4K resolution. It also introduced a $2.99 user fee for those outside your household sharing your plan. For the sake of perspective, when Netflix began streaming in 2013, its standard plan cost $7.99 and its premium plan cost $12.99.

Initially, Netflix overlooked those sharing passwords and tacitly accepted sharing accounts. Netflix lacked much competition, and shutting down scofflaws resulted in little gain. Now, the skyrocketing cost of the programming provided by/to Netflix and competition with dozens of other streaming services places Netflix in a more tenuous position. In other words, it wants to dun you more to keep those servers running. Netflix insinuates that theft of services resulted in recent price increases as much as rising costs.

Other standard streaming services offer high definition base fees from $5-$7 monthly. Amazon Prime delivers free next-day or two-day Amazon shipping with its $14.99-per-month (or discounted to $139 per year, up $20 this year) streaming service. Amazon also is all over the map offering streaming video ad-free, but also with advertising or as pay-per-view. One perk is a limited amount of 4K video at no extra charge. It also offers PBS programming after it leaves PBS Passport.

There are premium streaming services from HBO and Showtime that charge monthly fees from $10 to $15, so Netflix is not alone. Few services can compete with the range of the Netflix catalog. YouTube and Hulu fill the void left by cable/satellite subscriptions by aggregating various cable channels into packages, often at prices annoyingly similar to the cable packages they replace. YouTube TV charges $65 a month for 85-plus channels.

Readers requested I evaluate and review the plethora of streaming services. The cost far exceeds the income of a poor scribe, and the amount of programming fills more than the hours in the day. In the next column, I’ll provide an overview of streaming providers.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at

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