Digital Copy: Paying the premium for 4K content

I don't want to be a 'Netflix knocker', but the US streaming giant isn't making it easy...

In an answer to a reader's letter in a recent issue I said I didn't want to be a 'Netflix knocker'. And truly I don't. But the American streaming giant is certainly making it pretty hard work. Here's why.

Netflix has changed its UK pricing structure. There's nothing wrong with that, of course – it can charge whatever it likes and consumers will either accept it or stomp off elsewhere. And it has retained the £5.99 per month option that's so tempting. Only now, that particular streaming plan limits you to SD content. If you want HD, you'll have to pay £6.99, and if you want 4K/Ultra HD, you'll need to pay £8.99.

When it began changing its pricing structure, I received an email saying, 'As a thank you for being a member of Netflix already, we guarantee that your plan and price will not change for two years.' This was important – so important that it's one of the emails I actually archived in the right place – because when I signed up on the £5.99 standard fee, 4K (and HD) streaming was included gratis.

You can probably guess what happened next. While hunting around the Netflix menus last month, I noticed that I was no longer being offered 4K streaming for content that I know supports it.

Annoyingly, you can't view your account details via the Netflix app on a Smart TV. At least, not on the Samsung model I was using. So I logged on to the website, dug up my user info, and found I was now on the £6.99 per month HD (but not 4K) plan. Yet oddly I was still being billed at £5.99 per month.

Customer services was obviously my first port of call, so I opted for a live chat with a Netflix rep. It was all very jolly, with plenty of, 'We're really going to work as fast as we can to sort this for you, Mark,' and 'Oh! That doesn't sound right!' from the person I was communicating with in a pop-up window. But I soon realised that it wasn't going to be plain-sailing when I was told that it might have been caused by 'irregularities' on my superfast broadband connection, despite the obvious fact that my streaming plan had been changed. I was advised to reboot my router, which I did with a one hundred per cent certaintly that it wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference. The result was no change to my Netflix account's capabilities, and having to start another live chat session because my 'net connection had been interrupted. Then, by the time my new advisor was up to speed with my problem, I realised my dinner was getting cold...

Eventually, a few days later, and following a third (and very quick) natter with another an extremely efficient Netflix rep, my issue was resolved. 4K was back! However, my plan was still listed as £6.99 per month, HD only, but my  fee was £5.99. A month or so later and it still says I am on the twin-screen HD plan, but now lists that as £5.99. And I can still get 4K. It's all a bit of a mess.

I want movies!

And here's my other issue with Netflix – the content's not great, is it? It's telling that the service is chiefly advertised with images from US TV series, because on the movie side it's a bit of a letdown, with a noticeable lack of recent titles and some bizarre recommendations (DreamWorks' Spooky Stories 'toon is related to Ridley Scott's Alien, apparently). The artwork-heavy UI hints at a multitude of riches, but dig a little deeper and the cupboard feels bare. Alien, in fact, isn't even an option.

I suspect, however, that this is probably just me. I already have a large disc library and a Sky Movies sub, so I'm hardly the target market. And I'll keep subscribing for the 4K material. At least until it boots me on to the more expensive streaming plan…