Netflix CEO Apologizes for Self-Deprecating Humor, Hints at Streaming-Only Service

Yesterday Netflix CEO Reed Hastings did something stupid, and was forced to apologize for it. Netflix had hired actors to feign enthusiasm about the company during its Canadian launch event. It was an unnecessary move, and when Netflix was caught, Hastings was suitably embarrassed. Today he was unsuitably embarrassed.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Hastings was asked repeatedly about the low price for Netflix's new Canadian service. Media and other web-based services are typically more expensive in Canada—for example, Netflix's cheapest American plan, which allows the customer one disc at a time in addition to unlimited streaming, costs $8.99. Zip.ca, the Canadian rip-off of Netflix (right down to the red envelopes!), charges $10.95 CAD (about $10.60) for its cheapest plan, which offers one disc at a time and no streaming at all.

Netflix's streaming-only service in Canada costs $7.99 CAD—about $8.25—and launched yesterday. It offers no DVD-by-mail service at all, which explains why it's cheaper than the American plan. The Canadians get less, so of course they should pay less. That's why it's understandable that Hastings gave a smart-ass answer when asked if American Netflix subscribers would be jealous of the Canadian "discount." His response:

"How much has it been your experience that Americans follow what happens in the world? It's something we'll monitor, but Americans are somewhat self-absorbed."

Hastings, a born-and-bred American, was being classically self-deprecating—one of our fiercest weapons against American stereotypes abroad. By using the stereotype of the ill-informed American in a silly context, Hastings both removes the power of the stereotype and proves it wrong, all in one shot. It's never fun to have to explain a joke, but here it seems like it might be necessary: This throwaway comment precipitated a storm of abuse from those who, somehow, took it literally. "Good for you that you make enough money off all your silly 'self absorbed' American customers that you can afford to be so arrogant in how you talk about us," wrote one of the hundreds of angry commenters on the Netflix blog.

Hastings, in a defeat for both comedy and common sense, was forced to apologize in a blog post. Hastings called the joke "awkward" and even made a grand statement, worthy of a politician, about how "philanthropically-minded" Americans are. He did, interestingly, note that Netflix is looking to add a (presumably) cheaper streaming-only option to Netflix "in the coming months," which is a good idea, but the point of the post was to beg forgiveness for doing nothing wrong.

I for one would like to apologize to Hastings for the behavior of our countrymen. Hastings made an incisive, self-deprecating comment, which the more humorless among us seemed unable to understand, and it's unfortunate that he was forced to pander and apologize for it. Sadly, this probably means he'll be more guarded in future interviews. That's too bad, but perhaps unavoidable. Still, at least some of us are raising a fist in solidarity.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in Brooklyn (no link for that one—you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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3 Comments

  • logan

    zip.ca's cheapest plan is $5.95 a month, not $10.95(granted, it is still a bit of a ripoff). also, $7.99CDN is not $8.25USD, it is $7.75USD.

    regarding the comment, most american's certainly are self-absorbed, but the same goes for almost any other country in the world. it was a whole lot of uproar over nothing as far as i am concerned.

  • Brian Kent

    Brilliant Mick. Proving that you ARE actually absorbed enough in something other than your reading comprehension exercises to totally miss the point of this article. Lacking understanding, you reach easily into that familiar vat of Anger for yet another large helping of feel-good hating, errantly believing that you've got it right and this 'idiot' has it wrong.

    Let's explain it piece by piece, shall we?
    1. This guy is several orders of magnitude more intelligent and worldly than you are, and socially aware, as well. That in part explains why he's the CEO of a major company while you're happily chuggin' beers and eating nachos with your illiterate friends on a makeshift porch attached to your trailer on Sundays.
    2. The point Mr. Hastings missed, if any, was in giving people like you MORE credit than they were due, not LESS. As a CEO, he obviously wouldn't make a statement that he knew would jeopardize the stock or sales of his company, and since he obviously made the statement he must have believed that *most* people were capable of understanding that it was a self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek JOKE. Which essentially means that you're the guy in the back of the theater that stood up to protest without ever even understanding what you were protesting.
    3. While it doesn't really say too much beyond the obvious, many doctors are self-absorbed. The profession is filled with many people who are quite knowledgeable and also with many people who aren't very bright. But before I get a whole host of flames from doctors who aren't capable of understanding that such a statement does NOT necessarily mean them personally--well suffice to say that if we are as a culture self-absorbed, probably the people who are self absorbed more than the rest are the ones toward the extremes of the income brackets--i.e. the very rich and the very poor. Both by nature and for different reasons.
    To wish cancer on someone? Well, please leave this country and don't (or do) let the door hit you in the tail.

  • mick russom

    Get Cancer Reed Hastings, then you'll need a self-absorbed American doctor for help.