The features we want, that Netflix won’t give us

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Every Netflix user has experienced this classic evening; log in, search through the endless list of suggestions, only to find ourself deep into “Foreign Dramas” not knowing how we got there and realizing 20 minutes had passed. As Barry Schwartz’s book titled The Paradox of Choice describes, sometimes more is actually less.

“Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.” Chapter 5, The Paradox of Choice

Netflix is constantly analyzing the preferences of their 69 million subscribers including, the ways they discover content and how they consume it. This data is used to create new shows and “recommend content based on individual users’ tastes”. They pride themselves on having a wide library of content for its subscribers to access and binge-watch. However, the situation described above has played out for so many of us leading to a negative experience. In my opinion, this could be solved with three simple changes to the platform, allowing us to more effectively curate our Netflix library:

  • Allow users to mark items that they have already seen
  • Allow users to mark items that they have no interest in seeing
  • Create five library sub-sections:

i) All Content (Status quo)

ii) Items I want to See — currently known as My List (Status Quo)

iii) Seen It (New Feature)

iv) Don’t Want to See It (New Feature)

v) My Netflix — ie. All Content excluding Seen it & Don’t Want to See It (New Feature)

Unfortunately, I believe there are three key reasons why Netflix won’t offer these features:

  1. The Value Proposition: The current Netflix experience makes the user believe there is an endless stream of content available at their disposal and therefore they are receiving significant value for their subscription. By allowing users to curate their library, they may realize there is less content than they are interested in viewing, causing them to re-evaluate the value proposition and potentially cancel their subscription.
  2. Simplicity: The current experience is a simple one and allows users to find content in three ways: a) Search by category, b) Search by Name c) Visit My List. Allowing users to curate content would require an overhaul of the UI that would lead to a more complex experience that may reduce the perceived ease of use.
  3. Cost: Netflix is available in multiple languages, on multiple app stores and is compatible with numerous web browsers and connected TV platforms. Any significant change to the platform would require thousands of development hours to complete, which would be an expensive ordeal.

It’s an interesting dichotomy they face, as they evaluate tradeoffs between improving user experience versus the potential impact on subscriber churn. I would love to see new features to more efficiently allow subscribers to find content, but understand the perils of doing so.

If you have thoughts on other ways Netflix could improve the user experience, leave a comment below or send me a message on twitter @nl0787

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