Netflix customers won’t just lose access to movies like Tangled and Toy Story 3 this week due to the end of the company’s deal with pay TV network Starz. Subscribers also don’t have access to the Starz live feed anymore, putting an end to what could under different circumstances have become Netflix’s live TV streaming business.
That’s right: Netflix has had live TV on its site ever since the start of the Starz deal — but you’re not alone if you’ve never heard of this feature. Customers were able to tune into the Starz Play live feed on a special section of the Netflix website, offering them access to whatever was airing on Starz at any given time, including original programming and movies not available as part of the Netflix catalog.
However, the feature was never fully developed; the Starz player was basically just an embedded version of what was available to Starz subscribers on the network’s website, and the implementation was severely lacking. Users had to have a Windows computer with Internet Explorer and Silverlight to access the feed. A version for other platforms was promised as early as 2008 but never materialized.
The live feed was also hidden on the site for a long time. A direct link apparently disappeared as part of the recent redesign. On Wednesday, Netflix completely removed the Starz live TV player in anticipation of the departure of Starz content.
So why did Netflix have access to live TV to begin with, and why did it not make a bigger deal out of it? A Netflix spokesperson declined to comment on the Starz Play live feed, but one can assume that live TV access was thrown in as part of the bundle five years ago. Netflix was able to secure rights to the Starz catalog for $30 million in 2008.
That’s a steal by today’s terms. But back then, both sides really didn’t have a good idea of how big of a business online video would be and how Netflix would be able to monetize it. It’s entirely possible that Netflix secured the rights to the live feed to have an option of venturing into live TV transmissions, only to later realize this wasn’t something its customers were interested in at all.
These days, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings hardly wastes any opportunity to tell the world all the things Netflix won’t do. In a recent presentation for potential new hires, he specifically pointed to live sports as a segment his company isn’t interested in, alongside Hulu-like catch-up TV for content that’s currently airing on TV and pay-per-view offerings. As of Wednesday, one could add live TV streaming to the list.