Please Stop Trying To Argue That Netflix Should Be More Like Traditional Cable TV

from the sometimes-change-hurts dept

Just a few years ago, more than a few analysts proudly proclaimed that Netflix had doomed itself with its one-two punch of dysfunction; namely the botched effort to split off their DVR rental and the immensely-disliked round of rate hikes. While both were indeed ugly, a few years later and most customers have long-since forgiven the company, with new users signing up in droves. Most of the analysts that predicted doom have been pretty quiet, though a few have been willing to admit they were wrong, and Netflix's international expansion and growing subscriber counts are pretty impressive considering where Netflix started not long ago.

But where does Netflix need to go from here to win consumer hearts and keep pushing the barriers of television? An article over at Wired claims that the biggest thing missing from the Netflix experience is the ability to channel surf. Or, as Wired suggests, some feature that effectively just lets you turn your brain off and soak up a rotating, automated selection of ambient TV noise -- like lonely people used to do in the olden days:
That's the central problem plaguing both set top boxes like Roku and Apple TV and content services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Instead of letting you lean back and soak up content, these new challengers require decisions–a careful cost-benefit analysis of thousands of different options. If the traditional TV experience is about letting viewers surf channels, today's on-demand video is like giving them a speedboat and forcing them choose a destination before they can even get in the water.
If your biggest problem is that you're awash in too many choices, that really doesn't seem like much of a problem. Many people claim there's not enough content on Netflix, many of these "choices" being an over-abundance of C-grade dreck like Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, or Gor (which are fine, if laughing at horrible film is what you're in the mood for). If ambient, empty-headed noise filling the apartment is all you need, why not just turn on Gigli and read a book?

It doesn't seem like making Netflix more like traditional TV would be doing Netflix any favors. If you recall, more than a few people questioned Netflix's decision to release original series all at once, insisting that this killed the "water cooler" angle of program marketing, where people would gather and hype a program every Monday in the office. As the data came in, it became more and more clear that people really love to binge watch on their own schedule, and as Kevin Spacey himself ultimately pointed out, giving people what they want isn't a bad thing.

Some of the article's other complaints are more valid, like Netflix's continued inability master their own GUI (though the author's headline suggests the traditional cable UI is "quietly brilliant," making me wonder if they've used a Time Warner Cable cable box lately). Netflix also made a mistake with locking out companies who were doing a better job than they were at highlighting new content. But a lot of Netflix's problems, as you can watch the Wired author figure out toward the end of the piece, is that content industry licensing has hamstrung live TV efforts (see: Aereo), better content and real innovation before it starts.

Keep in mind Netflix streaming is relatively young, and while there's a lot of things Netflix needs to do to improve, becoming more like the lowest-ranked industry in the history of customer satisfaction surveys probably isn't among them.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Arsik Vek (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 2:18pm

    I have the ability to put Netflix on a long run in the background and shut my brain off. I just set a whole season of a tv show to autoplay.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 18th, 2014 @ 2:58pm

    'while there's a lot of things Netflix needs to do to improve, becoming more like the lowest-ranked industry in the history of customer satisfaction surveys probably isn't among them.'

    but think of the time and the money that would be saved and how the traditional cable tv could then carry on ripping customers of by having them pay for services they dont want, just to get those it does want. doesn't matter about anything else, as long as the legacy industries are ok!

     

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    Anonymoose, Feb 18th, 2014 @ 3:05pm

    * DVD rental

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 18th, 2014 @ 3:06pm

    The concept of channel surfing is strange to me. That is like playing the lottery. Sure it maybe fun once or twice, but the majority of the time, you lose.

     

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  5.  
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    droozilla (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 3:09pm

    Anytime Wired says something, my immediate reaction is usually to ignore them completely, because they're idiots.

    This example only helps that kind of thinking.

     

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  6.  
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    Jeremy2020 (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 3:24pm

    You *can* 'channel surf' on netflix...you get recommendations then a whole crapload of stuff in the categories

    There have been times that by the time I am done browsing for something to watch...I've spent so much time just browsing, I have no desire to watch anything anymore.

     

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  7.  
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    AdamR (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 3:27pm

    The Onion's Exclusive Look at Netflix's Genius "Browse Endlessly" Plan

     

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  8.  
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    Dave_Tech, Feb 18th, 2014 @ 3:30pm

    Background noise

    Admittedly I have not read the Wired article, but it seems they have a valid point that is being ignored. My wife and I know many others who turn on channels like DIY or Food/Cooking Channel while they surf the internet or do chores. It would be prudent for Netflix to find a way to cater to this sort of activity.

    Perhaps something as simple as allowing someone to click on their super specific categories and having it randomly autoplay shows in that genre while allowing the user to skip episodes they don't care for. Something similar to how music playlists work on Slacker.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 3:34pm

    I have a media center system running on XBMC and a central MySQL database. It's got a plugin that will organize your library into different channels and keep a TV Guide style setup so you can channel surf and browse a schedule and such. Worked better then the interface of my Comcast box. I turned it off after about a week because it just wasn't worth it. Why flip threw possibly dozens of channels of things you probably don't want to watch at the time when you can just flip threw the library to what you do want to watch?

    Basically I'm saying that Netflix doesn't need a channel surf function. No one would use it after a while.

     

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    TAKUMI (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 3:52pm

    Personally I tend to be the kind of person where when want to I watch a show I pay attention to the show, and when I want random background noise I open up libre.fm and have it choose some freely-licenced ambient music for me. If I want to listen to interesting content with words, I sometimes go to TEDTalks, or a couple of times I've gone to... I think TED radio hour may be the name of it? It's been a while since I've listened to it, so I've forgotten. Anyway there's always radio or radio-like services if you're not extremely picky about what you're listening to.

    That's just my personal preference though.

     

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    crade (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 3:53pm

    Re:

    The void is basically for when you are watching TV, but not as your primary focus.. While you are cooking or vacuuming, playing games, whatever. (or, I guess like the author says, lonely and do nothing but halfassedly watch tv).

    I think the void they are trying to fill here would be done better with a queue system than with a channel system.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 18th, 2014 @ 4:44pm

    But but but... change is bad!

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 5:24pm

    Actively choosing what you watch not only make you choose your content wiser, but gives you a sense of responsibility when you find you've wasted two hours watching crap because you had to actively seek it out.

    Basically it's 1000 times better than cable, but requires that you take an active part in figuring out what you want to see, which is a big plus for me.

    Trailers on Netflix would be nice though, and if they wouldn't go to a stupid menu screen before the credits are over.

     

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    Zos (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 6:20pm

    that;s a weird take on it.

    i specifically pay for netflix for two reasons- 1. cartoons on tap for the kids that i don't have to download myself
    and
    2. random channel surfing, for content outside of what i've specifically gone and gotten and already added to my home media server.

    basically netflix IS my channel surfing randomness.

     

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    Jake, Feb 18th, 2014 @ 6:48pm

    Re: Background noise

    I'd have thought the streaming audio market already had that angle covered, but then maybe we British people are spoiled by the BBC.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 18th, 2014 @ 8:03pm

    To all Netflix bandwagoneers. Netflix did have a streaming preview trailer years ago when they were only a DVD service. Eventually, streaming came and they took off the preview. Don't know why. Those trailers might mean you'll be watching more crap. Lol.

     

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  17.  
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    Shmerl, Feb 18th, 2014 @ 8:16pm

    What Netflix is missing

    is ability to buy video and DRM free with that. The whole idea of renting digital goods is dumb to begin with and prompts distributors to use DRM to enforce the renting nature of the service.

    There should be more services like Headweb (which is unfortunately limited to a very few countries).

     

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  18.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 9:30pm

    Re: What Netflix is missing

    Streaming a movie that I will probably never watch again for the few dimes I pay Netflix is far more preferable than filling my hard drive with downloads.

     

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  19.  
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    Shmerl, Feb 18th, 2014 @ 9:46pm

    Re: Re: What Netflix is missing

    Streaming is just a convenience, and why streaming has to be equal to renting? You buy something and once you did it can be available for streaming, download and etc. It should be up to you whether to back it up and watch locally on any of your devices (which is not possible with DRMed services) or leave it in the cloud and stream in the browser for example. No DRM is needed for anything of that.

    And it's nonsense to charge you for the same thing second time if you ever want to watch it (i.e. renting is nonsense in the case of digital). Paying for convenience of streaming though makes sense, so you can have some monthly fee, because each time you stream you load their servers. But it's not because you need to rent and return the merchandise like with physical goods. So preventing downloading (which offloads their servers) makes completely zero sense.

     

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    Greevar (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 9:52pm

    If background noise is all you're looking for...

    just run a YouTube play list or 10 hours of the ballad of the manwhore.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 12:52am

    Re: If background noise is all you're looking for...

    I prefer endless NyanCat myself. It encourages me to get shit done, yo.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 6:16am

    Why does Netflix need to fill that role? For sling boxes going on a string if 'related videos' and 'YouTube recommends' seems to fill that role just fine. One comprehensive provider for every entertainment use case is one of the reasons cable sucks.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 7:08am

    Re: Background noise

    This, exactly. I keep my Pandora on shuffle. I don't channel surf, but I do spend a minute or so scanning the listings. As an earlier comment stated, I don't want to spend a ton of time searching categories (unless it is movie night, which is a small portion of my tv time).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 7:52am

    So they are less effective at distributing propaganda. Well, that is a serious problem.

     

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  25.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 19th, 2014 @ 8:28am

    Destroying what is good about Netflix?

    The thing that makes Netflix good is exactly that is is not like traditional cable TV. If it were to become more like cable, I would have much less reason to be a customer.

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 19th, 2014 @ 9:36am

    Re: Re: Re: What Netflix is missing

    The reason they prevent downloading is simply to prevent you from giving that download to someone else that hasn't paid for it, and for that reason it makes sense.

    Netflix DRM has the unfortunate side-effect of restricting access to specific regions and operating systems - and those are great reasons to complain about DRM - not because you aren't also getting a download.

    It obviously works great as a business model for streaming content, and is very different from renting.

     

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  27.  
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    Shmerl, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 10:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What Netflix is missing

    > The reason they prevent downloading is simply to prevent you from giving that download to someone else that hasn't paid for it, and for that reason it makes sense.
    No it doesn't, because the same content is provided by pirate sources all the same regardless any DRM in Netflix. So using DRM to hinder experience for legitimate users is simply idiotic. As with all DRM that is. DRM never hinders pirates, it only reduces quality of the product (i.e. usability, security and so on) for legitimate users.

     

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  28.  
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    Shmerl, Feb 19th, 2014 @ 10:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What Netflix is missing

    > It obviously works great as a business model for streaming content, and is very different from renting.
    I already explained above that DRM has nothing to do with streaming. Streaming can perfectly work without DRM. What you meant about "business model" is not streaming, but renting. I.e. emulating limited time access to the merchandise (like renting a car for a week). Only with digital goods the whole idea of renting does not make any sense really.

     

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  29.  
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    btrussell (profile), Feb 19th, 2014 @ 12:35pm

    Re:

     

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  30.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 19th, 2014 @ 3:44pm

    Re: What Netflix is missing

    "is ability to buy video and DRM free with that"

    That's not what they do -- and they couldn't even if they wanted to.

    Here's the reason that I'm OK with both the DRM and the lack of downloads: the service is not charging more than it's worth. DRM reduces the value of the thing that is DRM'd. The inability to keep the thing reduces its value even more. If the service is priced accordingly, as Netflix is, then I am OK with both of those things.

     

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