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Netflix now enforcing streaming-video restrictions

Consumer Reports News: September 07, 2011 11:53 AM

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If you're a Netflix subscriber who's trying to save money after its recent hikes in subscription rates, be careful. Going solely to Netflix's new $8 per month "unlimited streaming video only" plan may severely restrict how you may access Netflix's online movies and digital offerings.

At Stop the Cap, a website devoted to consumer broadband issues, Netflix subscribers noted over the Labor Day weekend that they could no longer stream more than one digital movie from the Netflix website simultaneously —to a Web browser on a home computer and a video-game system on their HDTV, say. Instead, members get an error message saying they've reached "the limit" for their membership and to "Please stop playing one movie and try again later."

[UPDATE: Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey told Time's Techland in an e-mail: "No Netflix member is limited to less than two concurrent streams. A few Netflix members have heard differently from us, which is an error that we are correcting." —Ed.]

The streaming restrictions aren't entirely new. Netflix's policy—if rarely enforced—has always been to restrict the number of online streams to the number of physical DVDs allowed by the various Netflix monthly plans. (A two-disc-at-a-time plan, for example, previously allowed subscribers to stream two online movies simultaneously.)

But the separation of physical disc rentals from online streaming—and Netflix's apparent crackdown on streaming restrictions—may have implications for consumers. This is especially the case for Netflix subscribers who may share their plans among family members—say, so kids can watch their cartoons on the computers at home while dad catches up on some missed TV shows by watching on his smart phone during his ride home from work.

Doug Aamoth, a Time Techland editor who has a one DVD per month Netflix subscription in addition to streaming, reports that he was able to successfully view Netflix videos on both his iPhone and iPad simultaneously. However, as Techland's own post today notes, Netflix's terms of service states in part:

Some membership plans allow you to watch simultaneously on more than one personal computer or Netflix ready device at the same time. If you are on the 1 disc out at-a-time plan [or stream-only plan], you may watch only one device at a time.

If Netflix continues to enforces this one-device-at-a-time streaming restriction, the only apparent way its subscribers could watch multiple streams would be to add an additional disc-rental plan on top of their $8-per-month streaming plan. (Netflix's mutli-disc plans now start at $12 per month. See "How pricier Netflix stands up to other options" for more information.)

Could this be a big deal for you if you're a Netflix subscriber? And have you noticed any such changes with your streaming from Netflix?

Netflix Now Enforcing Limit of One Movie Stream at a Time [Mashable]
Netflix Cracks Down on Sharing: One Stream Per Customer Unless You Pay More [Stop the Cap]
Netflix Quietly Caps Streams Per Household [Home Media Magazine]

Paul Eng

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