Netflix became an online video streaming behemoth by adding support for as many screens as possible. However, some devices will lose access to Netflix streaming in the coming weeks, and we finally know why. It’s all thanks to everyone’s favorite aspect of digital media: digital rights management (DRM). It turns out some older streaming devices can’t run the newer Netflix DRM, so they’ll just get locked out.
In order to convince the notoriously squeamish media companies to license their content for streaming, Netflix had to implement DRM right from the start. Yes, there are much more convenient ways to pirate content, but Netflix doesn’t have a lot of choice in implementing DRM. It does, however, get to choose the type of DRM it uses. Back in 2010, Netflix started using Microsoft’s PlayReady DRM. Before that, it used Microsoft Windows Media DRM. Yes, that’s a lot of Microsoft products, but the companies have a long and storied history together — Netflix was the only major site that used Silverlight as a streaming technology back in the day, and it released a Windows Phone app before Android.
The problem with Netflix’s DRM decision is that it still allowed manufacturers to add Netflix support with the older Windows Media DRM. Some TVs with Netflix support on the older DRM shipped as late as 2014. Since these devices can’t operate with the newer PlayReady DRM, Netflix will cut them off from the service on December 2nd.
The affected devices include several models of Samsung and Vizio TVs, as well as eight Roku streaming box models including the Roku HD and XD. Samsung says it stopped selling the affected TVs around 2011, but Vizio sold them until 2014. While there are a lot of Roku streaming boxes on the list, Netflix has always worked closely with the company. After all, it helped launch Roku as an alternative to building its own streaming box. Roku stopped selling devices with the old DRM quickly, so all the affected boxes are from no later than 2010. Nine years of use from a streaming player that cost less than $100 isn’t bad.
Netflix says it’s been communicating with users of affected devices for several weeks via both email and on-device alerts. The good news is that Netflix works on almost anything with a screen these days. A $30 streaming player like a Roku Express can restore your access to Netflix.
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