Saturday, October 3, 2015

An Open Letter to Netflix

It's like a game! Can you find the three that match?
Update: I'm leaving this up, but as of October 13, 2015, everything I noted in this post has been fixed. See the end for further notes.

Dear Netflix,
It’s time to sit down and have a little talk about your interface. I know, I know, you were hoping that I was going to suggest that we “Netflix and chill,” but sometimes other things have to take priority. Yesterday, I sat down to see if there was something on Netflix I wanted to watch and experienced that same problem again, the one that makes me think that you don’t want to play nice. You know the one.

You see, Netflix, because this isn’t about me. It’s about you. Your interface is supposed to help me find a movie (or a television show) with which to pass the time. Lately, it seems not so much about what I want to watch, but what you want me to watch. Really, your opinions are not necessary here.

I’ve been a Netflix customer for quite a few years now, since back in the days when your sole business was sending people DVDs in the mail. I hear you still do that, though it feels terribly retro. In those days, all of your offerings were grouped into categories, and selecting a category took you to every item in that category. This made sense, since by offering people more choices, you might have led them away from the more popular options, keeping your customers happy, while permitting you to buy not quite so many copies of the blockbuster release that no one was going to be watching in six months. (In my early 20s I worked at a video store; I’ve seen this from the pre-Internet inside.)

Now you make the categories harder to access (Gay & Lesbian seems to vanished from everything except the web interface, despite that I watch a lot of LGBT films), and you only show a few movies in each category. You’re sort of pre-selecting, hoping I’ll angle for one of the about seventy films you offer in each category. By my count, you’re offering me 23 categories, some of which are tv shows, most of which are movies. So, when I sit down to watch a movie (unless I’m hankering for one that looks at gay life) I have access to approximately 1,610 movies. Except it’s fewer than that.

Before I get to that, I need to need say one more thing about the inaccessibility of LGBT movies from your apps. I understand that not all of your customers share my taste in films, but what’s the point of having a profiles in your account if those profiles can’t be configured to your viewing preferences? I remember telling you my favorite genres some time ago (back in the DVD era, no doubt). This (and LGBT films) should be accessible in every app from iOS to those baked into consumer electronics. Don’t make me get up from my television set and go to my computer because I want to watch a film. Don’t you care about those any more?

What you do seem to care about is getting me to watch what you want me to watch. Since you have limited the space for showing offerings, why do you ever put things into more than one category? I’m not disputing your accuracy, only your use of space. Here it really seems that you’re pumping things to get your money’s worth, giving the film as much exposure as possible so that your customers might be more likely to watch it.

Though it's not just movies about the fashion industry.
So, about last night (which, coincidentally is a fun film), you told me three times that I ought to consider watching the movie Iris. You know, not really to my taste. It’d be okay, if I could actually scroll past it. Except that there it was again. And again. What’s up with suggesting the same film thrice? Netflix, you’re like a nagging friend.

“Hey, Netflix, got any good movies for me to watch?”

“You could try Iris. It’s a documentary about an influential figure in the world of fashion.”

“Thanks, but not really to my taste. Got anything else?”

“You could try Iris. It’s a documentary about an influential figure in the world of fashion.”

“Yeah, no thanks.”

“You could try Iris. It’s a documentary about an influential figure in the world of fashion.”

Based on your past
viewing, we already know
you'll hate this. We're
suggesting it anyway.
Three times.
Are they paying you off for this? Do you get more money if you manage to sucker me in to watching Iris? I’m so suspicious of your motives now that I’m disinclined to ever watch the movie. At least that film has a score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. I should have brought this up when you tried to jam God’s Not Dead down my throat. It’s got a Tomatometer score of 16%, and even on Netflix it was rated at one star. Tell me, Netflix, why did you suggest that piece of crap three times? Who was paying you off?

Netflix, I’m a customer. I pay you guys (unlike Facebook, where I’m aware that I’m the product not the customer). My eyeballs might be valuable to you, but the only way you should be making money off my eyes is by providing me with interesting content and making it easy for me to access it. I’ve no proof that you promote certain films to increase your profitability; I just can’t come up with any other explanation that makes sense. Are they paying you to be a bad friend to me?

I understand that certain movies fit into more than one categories. I can name some really good science fiction comedies, and though they aren't to my taste, the horror comedy has established itself as a genre. Somewhere out there is a film noir science fiction comedy. If you let me look at all your film noir offerings, all your science fiction offerings, and all your comedy offerings (without heading over to my computer) it'd make sense to list such a film in all three categories. But not when you are showing me fewer than 2,000 options. I also have this odd reaction that the items shown three times are invariably things in which I have no interest whatsoever. (A "please exclude this" button would be great!)

I’d really like to kick back and “Netflix and chill” for a bit. Why don’t you make it easy for me? It’s what I pay you for, right?


p.s. Your app displays badly on an iPad running iOS 9. You might want to check into that.

Notes on the Update: First, it displays fine on iOS; no longer are there vast spaces between categories. And, despite my efforts to find something listed twice, no offering seemed to get a second slot. And I can now access Gay and Lesbian as a category from my iPad.

Given that this blog post hasn't exactly driven the hits (according to hit data in my blog (I don't post it, but let's just say this is not dragging in the eyeballs), I doubt I had anything to do with it. Still, it's an interesting coincidence.

Thanks, Netflix! Let's chill!
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1 comment:

  1. While we're talking about Netflix, what is with the country restriction? Netflix ia perfect for me as I've moved to Slovakia and can't watch local Tv, but for some its blocked. Crossing a border shouldn't make a difference. Why do I have to go to the trouble of using a proxy and pretend I'm in the US?

    Also for some reason my autocorrect tries to change Netflix into Negroid. I don't even want to ask about that.


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