The streaming times, they are a-changin’.
Netflix, which fought hard and loudly for net neutrality when it was in the spotlight five years ago, has been relatively muted this time around. While the company’s position hasn’t changed — it still believes the principles behind net neutrality are fundamentally correct — Netflix isn’t nearly as outspoken now that the FCC is throwing out the rules that helped protect it back in the day.
On stage at the 2017 Code Conference at a ritzy Rancho Palos Verdes resort just outside of Los Angeles, CEO Reed Hastings explained that the reason isn’t just a bad case of buffering. Basically, it boils down to changing priorities now that the company has grown to 190 countries worldwide and is now known as much for its original content as its streaming service.
“Net neutrality is not our ‘primary risk profile,'” Hastings told Recode‘s Peter Kafka. “It’s natural for a company to focus on the battles it’s currently facing.”
In other words, Netflix still has a dog in the net neutrality debate, but it has much bigger dogs in other fights, and it’s choosing to focus on them. Hastings also pointed out that Netflix is big enough to get the deals it wants to ensure its customers have access to its service, so the natural fighters in the current net neutrality debate are startups and smaller companies that are more dependent on its principles.
“Where net neutrality is important is the Netflix of 10 years ago,” he said.
At the same time, Hastings believes that even if Netflix was very outspoken about the issue, there’s no changing the mind of incoming FCC chair Ajit V. Pai, who has already begun rolling back the net neutrality rules put in place under the previous administration.
The principle behind net neutrality says all data should be treated equally by an internet service provider (ISP), so they can’t prioritize one service over the other. Without net neutrality, a provider like Comcast might favor its own over-the-top (OTT) video service over Netflix, and could charge Netflix to favor them the same.
Hastings also said he believes net neutrality could still be a guiding principle even if it’s not technically the law of the land.
“It might be that ISPs just accept the principles [of net neutrality] and it’s not enshrined formally.”