Words by Klieon John

Netflix, the world’s largest Internet movie and TV series subscription service spread its already enormous wingspan even further and set up shop in the Caribbean in 2011. Many considered this an imminent danger to regional cable service providers and related businesses since northern content was already dominating most of their packages, and there’s a major lack of locally produced quality material that can compete. All this in addition to far lower prices spelled trouble for local providers.

This giant, who had stomped out its larger and older rival, Blockbuster, in just a few years, was now expanding to cover 43 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, promising subscribers popular movies and television series in both English and Spanish, streamed from Netflix straight to their computers and even game consoles and other Internet connected devices for a single monthly price.

To many in the region who were fed up of being blocked by Netflix’s advance geo-location technology from streaming their favorite shows, this was an exciting new change. It meant no more ‘third world’ exclusion. Now, with just a PC, a credit card and 5 minutes to spare, you could get unlimited access to their massive library, which meant more usage from Netflix compatible gadgets like Roku, Xbox, PS3, Wii, iPad and Android devices for as low as US $7.99 a month.

Now is the point, however, where we cue the anti-climactic “womp womp.” It didn’t take long before it became clear that we had been sold a sheep’s egg, much to the disappointment of many users, who found that the library being offered to Caribbean customers was not only limited but incredibly outdated. Many complained of having access to only a few non-popular shows and movies that were a few years old. Another downer was the realization that it didn’t work on as wide a range of devices as expected. PS3, Xbox, AppleTV, iPad and Android users were left out and Mac users needed additional software (Microsoft Silverlight) to access movies. Others complained about what appeared to be incorrect language groupings which resulted in annoying subtitles in Spanish and Portuguese that couldn’t be disabled.

It became clear that Netflix had not done proper research into the Caribbean and Latin American market, making the incorrect assumption that viewers in this region would not demand new and relevant content like North Americans. Au contraire. There are few regions around the world that are as heavily influenced by American media like the Caribbean. There is a long history of figurative and literal penetration of the Caribbean by northerners, which should have been taken into consideration. The result was that many customers did not stay longer than the generous 30-day free trial and soon returned to their usual modus operandi of movie-going, DVD purchasing and pirating.

So the cable providers and other movie-related businesses didn’t suffer as much as predicted after all. However, they aren’t quite out of hot water as yet. The service is just six months old and there is still the very likely chance that Netflix will expand their offerings soon to bring the new regional market up to par with the American consumer base. The company has been incredibly successful in its dominance over the online streaming business so far and it can be expected that before long, the Caribbean and Latin American market will be full-fledged Netflix territory.

There’s also the fact that the filmmaking industry in Latin America and the Caribbean has been seeing a promising surge in the last few years with a wave of strong on-screen and behind the scenes talent resulting in quality products, which could mean an even greater opportunity for Netflix, which many cable companies and movie theatres across the region certainly haven’t yet recognized.  And it doesn’t help that many of our providers have recently run into copyright issues with movie companies like HBO and Cinemax, who have just started blocking their service in Caribbean countries. Cable providers now have hungrier mouths to feed and Netflix has the keys to the kitchen.

For now, it’s only a matter of time.