Netflix Tips

5 08 2008

I’ve been a Netflix member for a year now.  I’d like to pass on some tips for you.

The System
If you rent movies via your local Blockbuster store, then you living in the stone age.  It’s much more convenient (and cheaper) to rent your videos by mail.  The Netflix system is very easy.   When you sign up for Netflix, you browse through the titles and add movie titles to your queue.    Movies are mailed directly to your house.  The various Netflix plans vary, so compare to see which one suits your viewing habits.

The most popular is the 3 DVDs at a time plan.  This means you can have up to 3 DVDs at home with you at a time.  As DVDs are mailed to your house, you watch the videos at your convenience.  You finished, return the DVDs via prepaid envelopes.  Once Netflix receives a DVD back, they send you the next available DVD on your queue.  There are no late fees.  You are billed monthly for their service.

The only downside is spontaneity.  Unlike the convenience of stopping by your local video store and picking up whatever’s available, with Netflix, Blockbuster Online and other online video rental stores, you need to plan your movies ahead of time.

There are about 30 Netflix distribution centers throughout the U.S.  Although there are 50,000+ titles available, your nearest distribution center may not have your title available.  In this case, a video may be mailed from another distribution center which may be out-of-state.

Distribution centers operate Monday through Friday and normally receive and ship out videos the same day.  Because the post office is used to distribute videos, movies may be delivered to you Monday through Saturday.  So for you, videos can be received and mailed back on Saturdays.

When you calculate transit time for videos — typically one day from distribution center to you, and one day return, it’s easy to understand why the Netflix 3-at-a-time (unlimited) plan is the most popular.  With this plan, you always have a video on hand: one is being watched, one is being mailed to you, and one is being mailed back.

Maximum ROI
You can think of video ROI (return on investment) in various ways.  When you consider the price of Netflix’s 3-at-a-time (unlimited) plan is $17/mo. and the Blockbuster video down the street charges between $3-$8 per video, your break-even point is between 3 to 5 videos in a month.  In fact, Netflix’s own research shows that the average 3-at-a-time (unlimited) plan subscriber rents about 5 videos a month.  Nevertheless, because there are no limits on number of rentals per month in any unlimited plan, there are ways to maximize the number of videos you watch in any given month.

Tip 1 – Watch More
The more videos you watch (and return quickly), the more videos you will get.  Don’t forget Saturday mail deliveries and pickups.

Tip 2 – Return Videos To Nearest Netflix Distribution Center
In case you get a video from a distant or out-of-state distribution center, your return mailing address on the return envelope will be from that distant/out-of-state center.  Ignore it.  Use a Sharpie marker and black out 3 lines: the mailing barcode, PO box line, and city/state/zip line.  Write in the address of your nearest Netflix distribution center — clearly.  You can return Netflix DVDs to ANY distribution center.

Tip 3 – Short Queue
Instead of having a long queue, keep it relatively short — 15 to 20 max.  I’ve noticed that keeping short queues tends to force the Netflix computer system to give you videos more on top of your queue instead of anyplace in your queue.  Warning — having too short of a queue — 8-10 is bad too — I’ve had delays in sending any video to me.

Tip 4 – High-Demand Items On Top
Put higher demand movies on top of your queue.  Your chance of getting that video will be better.  I put long wait and short wait videos on top.

Tip 5 – Series Out Of Order
Normally when you add a TV series multiple-DVD to your list, say Heroes Season 1, discs 1-7, you add it in-order:  D1..D7.  However, the problem is that everyone else is doing the same and watching the series in order.  There’s a bottleneck.  However, if you add the series in reverse order: D7..D1, you’ll have a chance of getting the discs sooner.  Of course you’ll be watching them out of order, but that is the downside.

Tip 6 – Post Office or Mailbox
Using your own mailbox to return videos is the most convenient.  Except for the small chance of somebody stealing your mail, it works very well.  However, if you’re running errands and want to mail it back, is it better to use a mailbox drop or walk into a post office and hand it to a postal worker?  Let’s see.

I’ve had several bad instances when I dropped off a Netflix video at 5:00pm into a mailbox for a  5:15pm last pickup — and the mail wasn’t picked up.  It really sucks.  This same post office closes its doors at 5:30pm.  What do I do now?  I park my car, walk in, and hand it to the post office worker.  It’s a lousy inconvenience, but it’s better than having a a day delay in returning videos.  Also, if I’m on the way to the post office and see a mail delivery truck parked on the street, I stop nearby and hand my videos to the mail carrier.

I spoke with a friend who’s a mail carrier.  He told me that when you hand a Netflix video to a post office worker, they take better care of it by separating it from the regular mail.  Dropping it in the mail drop makes the video go with the rest of the mail.  There’s a greater chance of DVD damage in that case.

Tip 7 – DVD Ripping
You can use a program like DVD Shrink, DVD Decrypter, RipIt4Me, or DVDFab HD Decrypter to rip a movie to your computer.  In this fashion, you can watch the video off of your computer and then return the physical DVD in the mail sooner.

Tip 8 – Handling Bad DVDs
When you receive a badly scratched DVD, I use a little soapy water and a microfiber cloth to clean it.  Sometimes that will make the DVD playable.  However, if this doesn’t work (or if the DVD is cracked), there’s nothing you can do.  In this case, you must submit a report to the Netflix website about the problem and they send you a replacement DVD.

However, there have been some cases when I get the same scratched DVD mailed back.  To make sure the Netflix envelope stuffers do their job right, follow these steps:

  • Get a 2″ x 2″ post-it note and write “Cracked” or “Scratched unplayable” on it with a Sharpie pen.
  • Affix the post-it note over the DVD’s barcode area.
  • Put the DVD into the envelope as usual, but this time the DVD’s barcode is covered.
  • Using a Sharpie pen, write “Cracked” or “Scratched unplayable” on the front and back of the Netflix DVD envelope.

When I follow these steps, I almost always get a good replacement DVD.

Tip 9 – New Releases On Top
Google “new video releases” and peruse the various web sites to figure out which new video release sounds good to you.  Then add the videos to the top of your Netflix queue.  Make sure to add the videos to the top of your queue before the video is released.  BTW, new videos are released on a first-come-first-served basis with preference given to newer members and members who don’t rent as often as others.

Tip 10 – Timing Returns
This next tip is a gem — I have yet to find it any other place.  As you may now, new DVD video releases are done every Tuesday.

Question:  When is the soonest Netflix can mail out a newly-released video?
Answer: Tuesday?  WRONG!  It’s Monday!

If you want a video that is going to be released on Tuesday, mail back your finished DVD on Friday or Saturday.  Why?  Netflix will receive your video on Monday and assuming you put the new video release on top of your queue and mail it out that very same day — Monday.  You will receive the newly released DVD on Tuesday — THE VERY DAY OF THE RELEASE!

Let’s do a max ROI calculation.  Let’s say you have this scenario:

  • A month with no holidays
  • You are on the Netflix 3-at-a-time (unlimited) plan
  • You watch and return videos the very same day as you receive them: Tu, Th, and Sat.

In the scenario, you’ll be watching 9 x 4 = 36 videos in a month.  That comes out to $17/36 or $0.47 per video.  From what I recall in an obscure article, Netflix’s fixed overhead comes out to $2 per video ($0.42 x 2 is postage).  So in this scenario Netflix loses $20 a month on you.  This is obviously unsustainable.  So what does Netflix do?  It throttles you.

If Netflix considers you to be a heavy user, it uses tactics to make sure you watch fewer videos.  This is called “throttling”.  One technique they will do is to delay sending a videos to you: either by sending it from your local distribution center a day late or by sending you a video from an out-of-state distribution center.

However, even with throttling, Netflix is still a bargain.  You can’t really complain.  It’s one of the best values for your money for your entertainment dollar right now.



One response to “Netflix Tips”

8 09 2009
AdviceOnStuff » More Nexflix Tips :

[…] previously given some tips for Netflix users.  And I’ve learned a few more that I’d like to […]