Slice of Life #5: Improving Netflix

Idea: Netflix has dramatically changed the way millions of people consume movies and television series, leading to several huge changes that is slowly disrupting the entire entertainment industry.

  1. Cutting the cord on cable, freeing individuals from the high pricing and monopolistic rule of cable companies in most areas of the United States.
  2. “Binge watching” television series, freeing consumers from the requirements of season pacing and tuning in at a particular time.
  3. Paying for content rental, as opposed to trading advertisement consumption for content.

Although Netflix is continuing to innovate, most notably by purchasing the rights to shows directly (as opposed to after they’ve aired on television), I can’t help but think that the online experience Netflix (by Netflix, I’m talking about Instant Watch) offers hasn’t really changed all too much since it’s initial roll out. This has been on my mind a lot lately and I’ve come up with several ways I believe such an experience could be significantly improved.

Most of these thoughts were spurred by my recent fascination with the curation of experiences in ways that reduce consumer choice but increase the pleasantry and overall satisfaction of that experience. Barry Schwartz refers to this as the paradox of choice——the idea that the greater the number of choices that exist for a person, the greater the friction that is created, and that at some level this friction leads to consumer paralysis that is easier solved by walking away. Many companies adopt strategies that incorporate choice reduction as part of the value proposition they offer customers. Apple, Trader Joe’s, Amazon, and IKEA all offer different perspectives of this strategy to increase their brand’s value. (Apple, for instance only sell a handful of products that make design trade-offs to appeal to the widest audience. Trader Joe’s reduces brand choice so customers don’t need to choose between six types of flour. Amazon learns your browsing preferences to make an almost endless number of products feel custom fit to you. Ikea demonstrates products in action to give your brain guidance. They’re all different takes on the same idea.)

Netflix lacks this. Often times when I open Netflix, I feel as though there is nothing I want to watch. I have a queue. I am provided with new releases, but for some reason, even with thousands of choices at my fingertip, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed and discouraged. I bet this is what Schwartz refers to when he discusses this paradox. At some point more choices are worse than fewer. So the following are a random assortment of ideas that I believe increases value while, in some way, reduces the appearance of unlimited choice.

To begin with, Netflix seems to be lacking a real social aspect to its service. And I’m not talking about that buzzwordy, corporate-speak type of social element either. A service like Netflix doesn’t need Twitter or Facebook integration. It doesn’t need that “fake sociability” that companies seeking to check off a box seem to be searching for. But the Netflix experience could be dramatically transformed by introducing the ability to follow family members or close friends (and perhaps some trustworthy critics). I would love to know the recommendations and ratings of my girlfriend’s or sister’s recently watched. There’s so many possibilities for such connections. Imagine setting up a movie date with your girlfriend when you’re out of town or with your grandma who’s across the country? This way you can both watch the exact same thing at precisely the same moment and feel some connection in the shared experience. There has got to be an easier way to implement the ability for simultaneous multiscreen watching. It’d also be great to know where my parents are in a particular TV series or what series we’re both watching, so I might be inclined to bring it up with them when I visit. And maybe let my friends know when I rate a movie with five-stars; they say word of mouth is the best way to judge whether a person will enjoy a film. The overall collective rating system could be much further tailored to incorporate familial preferences. And even if I didn’t like the movie my mom did, it’s fun to disagree about entertainment.

They could have a ton of fun with movie critics. Instead of Netflix providing a Top 100 AFI list, how about giving critics the ability to be searched and followed. At a bare minimum, I’d love a list of “must watch” films from Netflix’s immense back catalogue recommended by a few of the critics who’s opinion I value. But it would be even greater if Netflix partnered with some of the more recognizable names in the industry to create a streaming Watchlist. This could be a collection of five to ten films that play seamlessly with mini interview like commentary videos in between with the critic explaining and introducing each film. This would allow for a multiple day watching experience that makes film into a sort of reality show countdown list. I’d totally watch compilations of old Ebert and Roeper clips reviewing their favorite films before sitting down to actually watch them one after another. The thing about these type of efforts is that they break down the thousands of titles into neatly organized little “rooms” that reduces clutter and confusion. It’s way easier selecting between 10 good films than 100 possibly good ones. It’s also incredibly meta to think about video of others reviewing video to help you select a video.

I may be slightly dating myself, but do you remember when television channels used to show the “Movie of the Week”? Why is that not a thing on Netflix? It serves as a “start here” for all and provides for a slight recapturing of collective conscious water cooler moments where everyone is talking about the same thing.

Surely, there are a bunch of tremendously cheesy, so-good-it’s-bad movies on Netflix. Why can I not see the lowest rated movies? I’d pay to know the lowest-rated movie of all time. Does Netflix not see the value of further breaking down ratings into fun ways that may not normally be possible? What about the highest and lowest rated Tom Hanks film? How about trying to prove society wrong by only showing highly rated Keanu Reeves films (even a broken clock is right twice a day…). The best movies from your birth year. The worst. For Oscar season, allow us to take a look at some of the more obscure category winners. Cinematography winners in the last 20 years. Best documentaries. Best foreign film.

There are so many incredible concerts that are impossible to get tickets for, which I’d love to watch from the comfort of my couch (even if it is months later). Does Netflix have camera crew to capture these events? Perhaps even a Netflix concert series that go direct to Netflix.

They’re just some random thoughts, but I’d really love to feel more engaged by Netflix. I feel like there’s so many meaningful films out there and that I’m missing so much.

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