Sep. 1, 2011 at 8:09 PM ET
People who are blissfully addicted to their Netflix Instant Queue may not realize where all that not-quite-premium-but-totally-watchable content comes from. A major source of it, in fact, the prime source of the top-shelf material, is Starz. And Starz, which carries Disney and Sony content, said today that it might not be providing any of that content to Netflix after February 28, 2012.
Companies fight all the time, and there may be a deal yet. It's a bunch of millionaires fighting over billions. The question is, how much are you affected? There's actually a very simple way to measure this:
Step 1: Take a look at your Instant Queue. If yours is like mine, it's packed with TV series and favorite movies. Maybe there are movies you watch and then remove, like on the DVD Queue, but in my mind, the Instant Queue is really misnamed, since it's more like your personal streaming library.
I have a ton of things that I will never remove, entire series of "X-Files" and "Star Trek: Next Generation" (also, I will admit, "ST: Voyager"). Of the 42 titles, the majority are TV shows, and of the movies there are lots of cult comedies and thrillers, and few if any "major motion pictures."
Step 2: Now look at your Saved Instant list. Another misnamed queue, this should be called "Stuff we don't currently have rights to." These were movies and shows you added that were available, but are no longer.
In a perfect world, that list should be empty, but mine currently contains 21 titles, from "Young Frankenstein" to "Young Victoria," from "Team America" to "The Breakfast Club." Where'd they go? On-demand movies come and go for a variety of reasons, often as exclusive commitments on network TV or premium cable, but a bunch of Sony-distributed movies were yanked in June in what Netflix called a "temporary removal."
Step 3: Do the math. Today, tomorrow, when the Starz deal does or doesn't go through, you will need to take the total number of titles in the Instant Queue and subtract the number of titles on the Saved Instant pile. If you come up with a negative number, or even come close to breaking even, you may not be getting what you think you're getting from your Netflix on-demand experience.
Step 4: Know your options. If you're feeling cheated, just remember, there's no two-year commitment, and you can cancel anytime you're truly not getting your $8 worth. There are actually a surprising number of Netflix competitors coming out of the woodwork, some you may already be paying for without knowing it. If you're already ticked about Netflix's price hike, it may be an especially good time to check your existing services.
I was a member of Hulu Plus, until I realized that, as a Comcast subscriber, I could just access all of that same content through the Xfinity website and apps. (Note: Comcast is the corporate parent of msnbc.com's joint owner NBC Universal, but I am speaking strictly as a paying subscriber here.)
You may also already have Amazon Prime, for the shipping benefits that the annual-fee program offers. It has many of the TV shows seen on Netflix, and getting more every day. And they have an on-demand section for new releases, something Netflix will probably never get.
Final pro tip: Make sure you finish your 20-episode "Party Down" marathon by February 28, 2012. It's a Starz Original series, and will likely vanish.
More on Netflix from msnbc.com: