I’m Still Trying to Figure Out Qwikster

Reed Hastings regrets Netflix's aborted plan to spin off its DVD service. But he hasn't explained how it happened in the first place.

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I haven't given a nanosecond's thought to Qwikster — the weird name Netflix gave to its aborted plan to spin off its DVD-by-mail business — since 2011. But it comes up in a New York Times story today by James B. Stewart, in which Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says he felt horrible about the whole debacle, which also included an unpopular price hike.

I admire Stewart's work and hoped that his article would finally explain how a company as smart as Netflix could have come up with an idea as terrible as Qwikster. But it doesn't. In fact, the whole issue is a bit of a muddle in the piece. It lauds Hastings for an apologetic 2011 blog post and links to a mea culpa video. But the post and the video only apologize for doing a bad job at explaining the price hike — and then they segue into announcing Qwikster. (The video is misleadingly labeled on YouTube — it's called “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Apologizes for Mishandling the Change to Qwikster.”)

In other words, Hastings, who was trying to undo a mistake, ended up digging himself deeper into a hole. A month later, Netflix decided that Qwikster wasn’t such a hot idea after all.

Today, Netflix has more than recovered: it's back to being beloved and is doing interesting and innovative things such as going head-to-head with HBO via exclusive programming like the U.S. version of House of Cards. I hope Hastings doesn't spend much time feeling guilty about the company's midlife crisis of 2011. But I'd still love to understand just what happened.