Netflix’s Newest Innovation is Basically Like Turning on the TV

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There was a time where people didn’t have to choose what would be playing when they turned on the television. A click of the remote’s power button meant a syndicated rerun of Seinfeld or The X-Files popping up, maybe even the seven thousandth rerun of Happy Gilmore on TBS.

But now, in the era of streaming, viewers are beset with choice fatigue. It’s gotten so draining that streaming giant Netflix, in acknowledgment of the problem, is rolling out a feature that will play something for you. No choice, just like old times.

Out with the New, In With the Old

After crushing 2020 as consumers stuck at home during the pandemic flocked to streaming services in record numbers, Netflix’s latest tinkering comes as appetite for its platform has waned.

  • Last week, the company said it added 4 million net new subscribers in the first quarter of 2021. That’s 2 million less than its forecast and 11.8 million less than Q1 2020.
  • Company research found subscribers couldn’t be bothered to search through Netflix’s vast content library at certain times, notably when sitting down to eat dinner.

Prototypes of the new feature, dubbed Play Something, have been tested among some subscribers over the past year. Users will now be able to use the “Play Something” button — which will then choose a program informed by prior viewing and allow the user to skip to something else if they don’t like what comes up.

“What we found through iteration is that if we were able to tell our members a little bit about why we chose a title, and also give them an opportunity to skip to something else, that allowed for them to have a sufficient lean-back, just-be-entertained moment, but also have a little bit of control,” said Keela Robison, Netflix’s vice president of product innovation.

Return to Surfing: Netflix has another “innovation” in the works: channel surfing. It’s currently testing a service called “Direct” in France, which broadcasts channels that users can tune into like in the terrestrial TV days of yore.

the takeaway

As one famous television show said, “Time is a flat circle.”