After rolling out operations beyond the Western Frontier of the United States, Netflix has taken the world by storm. With an interface that promotes intertextuality across multiple social networking platforms, Netflix has propagated a ‘roll-out’ onslaught across its desired dominions that mirrors the distribution programmes of major Hollywood studios from days gone by. Yet the questions stand: how user friendly is it? How does it weigh in when juxtaposed with established UK heavyweights like LoveFilm? What does it offer the avid film fanatic and casual viewer, and how does it strike that balance? Rhetorical questions aside, it would seem that Netflix has carved out an interesting space for itself in the perpetually streamlined environment of digital cinema.

Straight off the mark, Netflix confounds the user with its overt and off-the-cuff simplicity. For a service that offers such a mammoth back catalogue of filmic content, the interface evokes a wonderfully minimalist structure. Akin to Facebook and other successful sites and services, the White-Space design of the page allows a user to feel comfortable while perusing the echoing vaults of content. When compared to LoveFilm’s layout, Netflix allows, encourages and guides a simplistic navigation of what their particular service has to offer. The header outlines four tabs, a search function and the user’s sparse account details. It offers ‘Home’, ‘Just for Kids’, ‘Genres’, and ‘Taste Profile’. Thus, in one fell swoop, Netflix has covered all their bases. Each tab enables a drop down menu that disseminates a further and all-encompassing elaboration on what that tab promotes. As with the site in general, these drop down menus are simple and fantastically user friendly. The main body of the rest of the page contains personalised breakdowns and suggestions based on previously viewed content, personalised preferences and, the all important, ‘Friends’ Favourites’. In this regard, Netflix has crossed the boundaries of social networking, streamlining the commoditisation of taste and critical exchange.

It is important, and at times hard to remember that the service Netflix offers is a digital rendition of the rental business. For all intents and purposes, Netflix is allowing the seemingly infinite accessibility to the internet’s ethereal catalogue of filmic content. At such a low monthly price, the service has been hugely successful in establishing the illusion of ownership. This differs from Love Film’s duality of service. LoveFilm’s enterprise sets up a binary business that offers both hard copy rental, delivered and returned by post with no late fees, and Love Film Instant, a service not unlike Netflix, wherein subscribers are given access to a back-catalogue of nearly 5,000 films for a similarly low price. For the avid film fan, where ownership and experience is nine-tenths of the law, LoveFilm’s access to hard copy rental retains a cultured relationship. However, with a look over the rose tinted glasses, it is easy to see that Netflix has put all of its chips in the right market.

Interestingly, the two services have attempted the same demographic goal. They seem to wish to be holistically universal in their market targeting. While Netflix maintains the minimalist design that promotes comfortable simplicity, LoveFilm promotes an all inclusive surface tension of content indexing. Comparatively, the way in which users can review content segregates the universality of film fans. LoveFilm allows for in depth written reviews as well as a star rating system, upon which members can comment and debate in a Youtube or Reddit fashion. It has up and down votes for comment approval that promote a direct interaction with the content. Alternatively, Netflix allows for user star ratings that, to a certain extent, regulate your personalised suggested content. Thus, it can be seen that both services wish to advocate a universal and interactive service. However, LoveFilm seems to have inadvertently targeted the more ardent factions of the film appreciation world. As with its interactive rating sections, LoveFilm’s general interface can seem somewhat cluttered. In a benevolent display of administrative honesty, LoveFilm wears its heart on its sleeve, surrounding the site in drop down menus and side-bar indexing. While at times aesthetically overwhelming, an enthusiastic user will not feel overly pandered to. Conversely, Netflix utilises a wrap-around recommendation system on its home page that allows a non-invasive or overly cluttered aestheticism, furthering and expanding the comfort zone within which the user will exist. An apt analogy for the comparative nature of these systems is the presentation of Google set against that of Yahoo. Netflix takes up the reigns of Google’s sleek and minimalist presentation, while Love Film ardently illustrates the esoteric and full-frontal nature of Yahoo.

Outside the necessary semantics of service analysis, it is certain that Netflix is moving with the pack; riding the building wave of digital cinema across the globe. Just as rental stores across the country suffer bankruptcy and liquidation on the back of wireless streaming, so too have hard copy reels taken a permanent back seat to cinematic digital content. Companies like Belgian giant XDC carve the path for digital cinema in the age of borderless distribution. Unless otherwise requested, cinemas for the most part receive their content direct to hard drive and await an unlock key from businesses like XDC. The unlock key is usually taken by USB to whichever projector has been tasked with showing the film. Hence, gone are the days of monolithic film reels cluttering the dungeons of Projection. In their place are wires and mainframes, screens and docking ports. Once again, we enter the theoretical implications that arise when ownership, however brief, is called into question. Netflix offers the world a perpetual rental service with an almost bottomless limit, devoid of physicality. XDC and the enclaves of digital cinema offer sleek simplicity: films without the reels; without physicality.

Beneath both of these services, however, are the complexities that run hand in hand with any technological shift. The glorious beauty of filmic hardware that was once reels and projectors, feeding 35mm through a visible process, is now several clicks and install. This update of cinematic culture carries with it an inherent update of the exhibitors and viewers. We must come to terms with the idea of understanding the software and services we are now provided with in Netflix, just as the projectionists and exhibitors must assimilate themselves into the fresh and complex world of digital distribution.

For the hardened lover of all things film, this ongoing process of assimilation can at times seem like a further alienation. Indeed, it can seem that the gritty details of direct interaction with a passion are being hidden deeper in the ethereal clouds of wireless broadband and the faceless caves of server space. When it comes to Netflix though, what we are really seeing is the universality of inclusion. Just as Facebook promotes the interconnectivity of all people, however condescending it may seem at times, Netflix is bringing the world an all inclusive and shared love of film. Often, the best part of consuming a film is the discussion that inevitably follows. Netflix can share your filmic diet across social networks and offers you the dietary choices of others in a similar fashion. Thus, it is promoting the shared experience of film. So in the grand scheme of experiential communitas, Netflix would thankfully perpetuate the experiential nature of cinema, albeit across the hidden complexities of technological interaction. With this level of interaction, Netflix is becoming the cybernetic equivalent of a social trip to the cinema – a global interconnectivity on a scale that the local multiplex can never reach. Yet it does not have to. The experiential value of the cinema itself will forever remain simultaneously at the top and bottom of the global film industry. It is consumption, appreciation and demand all in one place. Similarly, online streaming venues, such as Netflix and LoveFilm, will form a wider and more accessible breach of the consumption and appreciation system. This systemic existence will no doubt evolve into something that can demand certain qualities, but for the time being, audiences are offered something that satiates the universal love of film.

Experienced, shared, discussed and reviewed; Netflix is quite simply streaming approval.