Today stinks for Netflix Watch Instantly subscribers who are fans of older movies. The very popular service lost hundreds of older movies that were owned by Warner Bros, and it just so happens a lot of them are now available on the studio's own subscription-based service, Warner Archive Instant. It's not a grand conspiracy to get you to move to a new service, though. It's because of a paradigm shift in the way Netflix cultivates its library.
When Netflix WI first launched it cut what would prove to be very lucrative contracts with studios for bulk access to their old catalog titles. Netflix would pay them X amount for Y many titles for Z many years. It gave the service a huge chunk of movies to offer up, and it gave studios what seemed like free money for movies they weren't doing anything with, anyway. But now that the service is immensely popular, studios aren't as willing to sell bulk access to their libraries for the same low rates, and so these contracts are simply not being renewed.
The United Artists and Warner Bros. movies that expired today were part of a deal with the streaming service Epix, which unfortunately isn't the only high-profile contract Netflix is losing this month. It was revealed two weeks ago that it is also not renewing its contract with Viacom Networks. This won't be a huge blow if all you watch are movies, but it does mean that at the end of May Netflix will not have bulk access to television shows from MTV, BET and Nickelodeon, and instead will be renewing on a title-by-title basis. What those titles will actually be hasn't been revealed yet.
As for Warner Instant Archive, that service will cost you $9.99 a month, which gives you access to hundreds of older films from Warner Bros., MGM, RKO, Allied Artists and United Artists. The package consists entirely of older films and TV shows (browse the selection here), and is currently only available on Roku devices, but if you fancy either one, it could prove to be quite the service.
Will we see more of this happening? Unfortunately, yes. As Netflix gets into the business of creating its own original content it loses the need to pay expanding prices for bulk deals for movies most people aren't watching anyway. It doesn't necessarily mean that all of the studios are going to start launching their own instant archives, but don't be surprised to learn of more and more of these contracts expiring without renewal in the not-too-distant future.