From red mailers to black boxes
I'm so torn over the $100 Wi-Fi box that Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) put out this week. The device, made by Roku, streams any of the films available through Netflix's "Watch Now" service right to your TV.

As you can imagine, you won't be streaming 27 Dresses or National Treasure 2 through the box. Slightly more than 10% of the 100,000 titles in the Netflix library are available, limited mostly to television shows and obscure films whose studios aren't commanding a king's ransom in revenue-sharing deals.

On the upside, the streaming is free for existing Netflix subscribers on unlimited rental plans. That free lunch isn't necessarily convenient, though. To see a film, you first have to add it to your Netflix queue from your PC, since you can't add films from the box itself. The box also doesn't have a hard drive; it's simply streaming the film after a short delay for buffering.

Ultimately, Netflix subscribers will need to decide whether the Roku device is worth the $100 cost, the content limitations, or the need to tether one more contraption to your home theater system.

If successful, it will be a big win for Netflix. Someone who invests $100 in hardware won't turn around and cancel a Netflix subscription anytime soon. How Netflix will be able to turn a profit serving free movies, beyond the customer-retention benefit, remains to be seen.

Imagine that: Something on Netflix that has yet to be seen.

Briefly in the news
And now let's take a quick look at some of the other stories that shaped our week.

  • Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) is exploring the purchase of Borders (NYSE: BGP). Some people fear that the deal would hit antitrust snags. Where are these people? 1995? Borders is a fading chain, and both retailers combine for just a third of overall book sales these days. Monopoly? This is barely Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues.
  • Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) introduced Live Search Cashback, where users can receive cash rebates on purchases from participating merchants when they shop online through Microsoft's search engine. It's a gutsy move, but how much will Microsoft pay me to stop short of calling it desperate? Just kidding, of course. I actually like this idea. If Mr. Softy wants a shot at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), it's going to have to bulk up its traffic -- even if that means paying for it.
  • As oil prices barrel toward all-time highs, investors are turning again to solar energy stocks. Seriously, did you ever think that "photovoltaic" would become a household word?
  • XM Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: XMSR) launched a television marketing campaign for its NavTraffic service, which monitors traffic in major metropolitan areas. Hopefully, it can use that service to find Sirius Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI). The FCC must be hiding it somewhere around here ...

Until next week, I remain,
Rick Munarriz