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First Thoughts: Netflix’s New ‘Play Something’ Feature

by Adam

April 30th, 2021
black flat screen tv turned on displaying 11

Everybody knows it. The biggest problem with Netflix is that you go on there to watch something but find yourself scrolling for 20+ minutes deliberating over exactly what to watch before eventually either turning it off, or taking the plunge with something you’re not particularly convinced of.

As somebody who would like to one day start a streaming service (or at least work for one), there is a page in one of my notebooks titled ‘Problems with Netflix’. This was naturally top of the list. Though, there are others.

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Netflix’s currently proposed solution is the ‘Play Something’ button which is similar to Google’s ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button. It just plays something.

When I first saw it yesterday evening, the wife and I tried it.

We have a Samsung Smart TV with a Netflix button on the remote. When we turn on the TV, it streams ‘normal telly’, which sometimes wins over any deliberate streaming.

For people in their 30s, we grew up with a very different TV experience to the current offering. You could just switch it on and watch whatever is coming, from whatever point it had reached at the point when you switched it on. Some of my best ever viewing experiences weirdly happened this way.

The On Demand generation will never know the feeling of turning something on at ‘a good bit’ and watching whatever is left of a movie or TV show secretly wishing we were able to see it from the beginning.

What has this trip down memory lane got to do with Netflix and the Play Something feature? Well… I assume they’re trying to morph into something that’s closer to traditional television than the infinite menu of options they currently present.

And I think that probably means NOT playing shows from the very beginning.

They want to start at the first ‘good bit’. Being Netflix, I’m sure they’re drowning in data that can tell them where the first good bit is.

I think it comes down to emotional state.

When I find myself endlessly scrolling, I suspect it’s because a thumbnail poster and a title are not enough information to get me to make a decision. The graphics and title cannot make me a promise that I believe in. And trailers are advertising and I’m sick of being advertised to. This, incidentally, is another thing I HATE about Netflix – it just plays trailers at you if you stop scrolling for longer than a second.

Will this feature take off? I personally don’t think so. As far as I can see, Netflix’s biggest problem is too much choice. And most of it is rubbish. Surprisingly, in all the years since it became popular, I’m surprised at how seemingly little Netflix has done to target content to people. Amazon, I’m pretty sure, had this down in their ecommerce store by this point.

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