After creating the much-admired model of an Internet mail-order rental business, shipping about two million DVDs a day, Netflix has been aggressively pursuing the next generation of distribution channels--web streaming, game consoles, and other connected devices. About half of its 11 million subscribers have used the "watch instantly" feature--movies and shows without commercials. More than 12,000 titles are available for streaming, and more are coming as Netflix signs on more studio and network partners.
Here's how the plotlines of Netflix and Hollywood's other high-profile disruptor, Hulu (#11), are converging:
Hulu: Topped 43 million monthly viewers. Has streamed 6.7 billion videos since 2008 site launch.
Netflix: Topped 11 million subscribers. Has delivered 2.5 billion DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and video streams since 1999 launch.
Hulu: CEO Jason Kilar, 38, a Harvard MBA and Amazon vet. Quirk: monitors Hulu feedback 20-plus times a day on Twitter.
Netflix: CEO Reed Hastings, 49, who earned a master's in computer science from Stanford. Quirk: doesn't have an office.
NEW CAST MEMBER
Hulu: ABC, which joined the NBC-Fox joint venture, adding episodes of shows such as Lost.
Netflix: ABC, which lets Netflix's streaming service deliver previous seasons of shows such as, well, Lost.
Hulu: Boxee, which streamed Hulu content directly to TVs until Hulu's parent companies objected.
Netflix: Redbox, which offers same-day DVD rentals for $1 at 19,000 locations.
Hulu: YouTube, which now shows clips of current ABC shows and episodes of TV classics.
Netflix: YouTube, which struck a deal with Lionsgate and others to stream some of their movies for free. Also testing rentals with Sundance.
Hulu: Launches Hulu Desktop--think TiVo with endless memory--to simulate the TV experience on a computer, including remote control.
Hulu: Developing a Web-only reality series with American Idol creator Simon Fuller.
Netflix: Crowns winner of Netflix Prize, a $1 million award for improving its recommendation engine.
Hulu: Next Issue Media is the "Hulu for magazines"; Epix is the "Hulu of movies"; Vevo is the "Hulu of music."
Netflix: Rent the Runway is the "Netflix of high fashion"; DeepDyve is the "Netflix of scientific and technical journals."
TRICKY PLOT TURN
Hulu: Can Hulu increase revenue (estimated at $140 million in 2009) and keep impatient parent companies at bay?
Netflix: Can Netflix procure newer titles such as The Blind Side for streaming to match its DVD library, without getting gouged by rights fees?
Hulu's nagging rumor: no more freebies. It'll become a pay-only site.
Netflix nagging rumor: Amazon will buy it.
Hulu: What will Comcast do with Hulu after acquiring NBC Universal? More ads? A pay tier? Fold it into Fancast Xfinity TV?
Netflix: What happens if partners like Xbox strike content deals directly with studios, cutting out Netflix?