De-blackboxing Netflix: Make every room your movie room


Not so long ago, if we wanted to enjoy a movie in the comfort of our homes we would probably go to a video rental store.  There we would choose from aisles filled with different options and maybe ask one of the employees what was a good option to take home.

Now, we consume home entertainment in a whole different way.  Netflix is an North American company established in 1997, It started its subscription-based digital distribution service in 1999 and by 2009 it was offering a collection of 100,000 titles on DVD and had surpassed 10 million subscribers.

In his book  Streaming: movies, media, and instant access,   Dixon Wheeler states that  Netflix is responsible for the largest portion of internet traffic in North America.  Netflix movie and TV show streaming accounts for  22% of all North American Internet Traffic. [143]

Netflix is just a remediation of the video rental store, nobody has opened this black box and analyzed what makes Netflix work as well as it’s doing.


Netflix uses it’s own IP address space for the hostname  This server primarily handles two key functions  1.- Registration of new user accounts and capture payment information (credit card or Paypal Account) and (b) redirects users to or based on whether the user is logged in or not respectively. [Unreeling Netflix, 1621]

Netflix Architecture from: “Unreeling Netflix”.


After signing up or registering as a new user.  Netflix’s system usually will tell the user to download Microsoft Silverlight a player/browser used for download, decoding and playing movies and TV shows on a desktop computer.  Mobile users need to download the Netflix App in order to start watching content.

What really surprised me and probably most people don’t know is that stated by the article “Unreeling Netflix: Understanding and Improving Multi-CDN Movie Delivery”   Most of the other Netflix servers such as and are served off the Amazon cloud which indicates that Netflix uses various Amazon cloud services.

So, a movie with outsourced resources and a limited movie catalog has risen to fame because it sells us immediacy and comfort.  Audience consumption patterns have changed from driving to the movie rental store to just a few clicks on a website, it gets more interesting as we dig deeper into the service’s content delivery method.

When requesting some content, a user would probably think all content is downloaded from a single server.  The truth is that Netflix’s content is distributed by multiple CDN’s (Content Delivery Networks) a collection of “servers” in different points that transfer content to the computer that made that request.

That’s when the next part of the architecture comes in.  The “Dash” protocol used by the company divides the content into small chunks of video segments.  The subscriber’s system will request one of the chunks at a time,  with each request the Dash protocol will run a rate “determination algorithm” to determine the quality of the next chunk to request.

Silverlight and the Dash protocol will work together, sending information about the user’s bandwidth capacity as well as point of consumption; adapting the content’s streaming.  So the data transferred to a mobile user will be very different  from the data transferred to a desktop user.

This is an amazing process.  For us users may it seem as only some clicks or buttons away, but all of this happens “behind the scenes” every time we make a request to the Netflix server.  This is why Netflix has claimed the throne of  home entertainment consumption.

But one can only wonder…   Are we willing to sacrifice the social experience of movie consumption in order to get immediacy?   How will the big Hollywood Studios adapt to this new consumption trend?.

The truth is that Netflix has completely changed how we consume media. Seeing movies on the run or on different locations has made us see the movie industry with different eyes.


Rao, A., Legout, A., Lim, Y. S., Towsley, D., Barakat, C., & Dabbous, W. (2011, December). Network characteristics of video streaming traffic. In Proceedings of the Seventh Conference on emerging Networking EXperiments and Technologies (p. 25). ACM.

Adhikari, V. K., Guo, Y., Hao, F., Varvello, M., Hilt, V., Steiner, M., & Zhang, Z. L. (2012, March). Unreeling netflix: Understanding and improving multi-CDN movie delivery. In INFOCOM, 2012 Proceedings IEEE (pp. 1620-1628). IEEE

Dixon, Wheeler W. 2013. Streaming: movies, media, and instant access. (pp. 143-150)

Wikipedia: “Netflix”