Fact: Processing a video, especially a long one, takes time. Encoding and compression is a system-intensive process that can easily take hours, which means we don't envy Netflix's video team one bit--they have a lot of video to process. Not just because Netflix has thousands of movies and TV episodes available on Instant, but because the service supports approximately 900 different devices, many of which require unique codecs or file types to handle a video stream.
According to a recently released behind the scenes video, Netflix prepares 120 files for each and every video in its library. That includes versions encoded for your Xbox and PC and iPad and Android phone, with separate audio packages and subtitle sets for different languages. Some more trivia: for over a million pieces of content, Netflix stores more than 10 million assets and more than 100 million video encodes. Metadata for the content alone takes up terabytes.
A companion blog post about Netflix's supply chain touched on the way Netflix interacts with its partners to get content and the "versionitis" that afflicts modern video. Basically, there are so many different versions of any given film that it can be hard to ask a content provider for exactly the right one, which is why Netflix sometimes ends up with crappy 4:3 versions of movies filmed in widescreen. Netflix's partners also have to grapple with file issues, making sure the versions they send out are paired with appropriately times subtitles.
2013 seems like it will bring positive changes to the company. Netflix is launching a website for content partners to share data about all the video available on the service and plans to expand its hardware support to new systems. Plus, you know, Arrested Development.