Netflix Player stand-alone hardware revealed (and why you can’t have it)

Chris Burns - Jan 23, 2013, 1:40pm CST
Netflix Player stand-alone hardware revealed (and why you can’t have it)

This week we’re coming into the understanding that Netflix has had and likely still has a working collection of stand-alone Roku-like devices in their warehouse collecting dust – and why they were cut from production at the zero hour back in 2007. This device was known as the Netflix Player and was outlined in a lovely video presentation made in-house by Netflix under the title “The Griffin Initiative”. This project was, as its creators recall, just “weeks” away from launch when it was cut down to the ground by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

This project you’re about to see essentially amounts to a significant number of years of research and development by Netflix, all done for a single device then known as the Netflix Player. As Fast Company hears it from a set of unnamed “high-level sources”, the Netflix Player had taken more than one form over its development history. At one point the box was going to be a DVD player that was also able to download movies to a hard drive – this was before streaming video was made a reality with the oncoming wave of power known as YouTube took hold.

The video you see above is the Netflix-made self-motivational video made back when the product was ramping up towards finality. In it you’ll see some LOST references because of the ultra-popularity of the series at the time, and more than a couple of oddities meant to be humorous (and here obviously often racist, as it were,) as the team meets up with Foxconn to discuss manufacturing practices. Back then Anthony Wood (current Roku CEO) was the Netflix Internet TV lead and head of Project Griffin (Netflix Player), and he had the following to say this week:

“We were getting so close to shipping the hardware, and Reed decides, ‘I changed my mind–I don’t want to do hardware anymore. If we ship our own hardware, it could be viewed as competitive.’ It was totally the right decision. Licensing has been hugely successful for Netflix. It would’ve created tension with partners, and increasingly decisions would come up where Netflix would have to decide, ‘Should we make decisions based on what’s best for licensing, or what’s best for our own hardware?'” – Wood

And as you all well know by now, Netflix is still around – and with a force that’s undeniable in the market for both streaming video and movies in general. Roku is also a company that’s still doing relatively well with new bits of hardware and software updates coming on quite regularly. If it meant competing with the rest of the companies that’d been creation similar box devices at that time as well as companies readying their own smart TVs (futuristic at that time as well), or having Netflix exist as software on all of them, there really was only one decision to be made.

What would you have done, readers? Would you have made it clear that Netflix wants to work with everyone by staying the course with software only, or would you have risked creating a box of your own (not unlike what Amazon does with their Kindle devices) still trying to convince 3rd party manufacturers to work with your software (like the Kindle apps do today as well)? Let us know what you’re thinking!

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