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.

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Companies: netflix

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Comments on “Please Stop Trying To Argue That Netflix Should Be More Like Traditional Cable TV”

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Anonymous Coward says:

‘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!

Dave_Tech says:

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.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

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.

crade (profile) says:

Re: 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.

TAKUMI (user link) says:

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 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.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

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.

Shmerl says:

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.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

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.

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

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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