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story.lead_photo.caption Kevin Spacey stars as President Frank Underwood in the Netflix political drama House of Cards. The acclaimed series has been renewed for a fifth season for 2017.

I get email from viewers boasting how they've cut the cable (the evil, evil, greedy cable) and are proud owners of a subscription to Netflix (or even multiple streaming services) where they feel more in control.

Are you out of the streaming video loop? Do you feel Internet TV is just a fad? It's not looking that way.

Evidence: Netflix, which only had 25 million subscribers in the third quarter of 2012, boldly launched in 130 new countries last quarter and now has 81.5 million subscribers, according to its April 18 letter to shareholders.

"By expanding broadly at once," the letter says, "we are learning more quickly about how best to please consumers across a wide variety of cultures and markets."

Forty-two percent of Netflix subscribers are now outside the United States. So, what does Netflix do now that it has all those new subscribers? Naturally, it raises its rates.

A couple of years ago, Netflix raised the cost to new subscribers by a dollar, to $8.99 a month. Existing members were "grandfathered" in at the original $7.99 for a grace period of two years. That grace period is ending and the monthly fee will rise to $9.99 for everyone throughout the second and third quarters of this year.

"Currently," the shareholders letter explains, "more than half of our U.S. members pay only $7.99 or $8.99 for our $9.99 HD two-­screen plan. We will phase out this grandfathering gradually over the remainder of 2016, with our longest­-tenured members getting the longest benefit."

Netflix also promises not to blindside anybody.

"To reinforce brand trust, we won't change anyone's price without their acknowledgement of the new price in their member experience, where they will see a dialogue box about their options."

Those options still include the old $7.99 plan, except it'll be downgraded to standard definition and you'll be limited to only one screen. Then there's the new $9.99 HD two-screen plan, or the super-dooper, technophile-friendly $11.99, ultra 4K HDR (high dynamic range) plan that allows streaming to four screens at once.

As one observer noted, most Netflix subscribers are faced with one of three choices: Pay a higher monthly rate; get lower-quality streams; or cut off service.

Netflix is betting loyal subscribers will quietly submit.

"We expect only modestly increased churn from un-­grandfathering, partially because these members have been with us for a reasonable period already, and because our content continues to improve."

The "churn rate" is the industry term for the annual percentage rate at which customers stop subscribing to a service.

What do you think, Netflix subscribers? Is $10 a month still a bargain? Most would think so, especially compared with what many consider confiscatory cable fees where subscribers pay for a lot of channels they don't particularly need or want.

Is the Netflix content improving? Netflix says that thanks to the increase in ARPU (average revenue per user), it plans to invest about $5 billion for more than 600 hours of original content this year, and more than $6 billion in 2017.

That's good news if you enjoy such binge-worthy programs as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Sense8, Orange Is the New Black, Narcos, House of Cards, Marvel's Jessica Jones, Marvel's Daredevil and Bloodline (Season 2 premieres May 27).

Orange won't debut Season 4 until June 17, but it's already been renewed through Season 7.

And, of course, there's the highly anticipated Gilmore Girls limited revival (rumored for December) starring the original cast, including Melissa McCarthy. Hopefully, it'll fare better than Fuller House, which has been given a second season despite appealing only to die-hard Full House fans.

What's down the line? Watts is down the line. The big Netflix news last week was that two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts (21 Grams, The Impossible) has signed on to star in Gypsy, a 10-episode psychological thriller.

Watts will portray therapist Jean Holloway who, according to Netflix, "begins to develop dangerous and intimate relationships with the people in her patients' lives."

The 47-year-old Watts is on a hot streak. She's currently starring in Demolition with Jake Gyllenhaal. Also in 2015, Watts was in About Ray with Susan Sarandon and Elle Fanning, and The Sea of Trees with Matthew McConaughey.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

mstorey@arkansasonline.com

Style on 04/26/2016

Print Headline: $7.99 ride is ending for early Netflix subscribers

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