Indecision about what to watch on Netflix (NFLX -0.38%) is a common problem. The U.S. version of the video-streaming service has nearly 1,400 movies and 4,700 TV series on tap. Figuring out what to watch next can be challenging, despite Netflix's best efforts to organize the catalog and recommend titles based on your viewing history. There's even a cottage industry of sites and apps that exist for the sole purpose of giving you ideas about what to watch next.
Well aware of this issue, Netflix is preparing to roll out a quick fix to subscribers around the world.
In the fourth-quarter earnings call, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Product Officer Greg Peters fielded a question on testing a linear TV format in France. His response suggested that he wasn't terribly impressed with the results of that experiment, but the discussion quickly moved in a more interesting direction.
"I think an even better example of [new mechanisms] is a new feature that we've been testing, and we're going to now roll out globally because it's really working for us, where our members can basically indicate to us that they just want to skip browsing entirely," Peters said. "Click one button and we'll pick a title for them just to instantly play. And that's a great mechanism that's worked quite well for our members in that situation."
CEO Reed Hastings ribbed Peters about the name of the new feature, which is currently known as "I'm feeling lucky." Peters promised to come up with something better.
Don't be surprised if your favorite video-viewing device soon gains a new feature for its Netflix app. If you just don't know what to watch, you'll be able to simply hit a pool of random titles presumably tuned to your tastes based on Netflix's massive amounts of personalized viewing data. It's the kind of innovation that needed to be tested before the company could take it to a wider audience. I could imagine some viewers simply get stuck hitting that "random title" button over and over, but it seemed to work well for their testing population.
One more piece of the puzzle
The larger point here is that Netflix is open to new ideas. The service isn't written in stone, though you're unlikely to see changes large and sudden enough to make any new experience disorienting. Netflix prioritizes user experience. From title selection and catalog searches to video compression and translated subtitles, everything is up for debate and optimization.
Netflix puts it this way in its official long-term view document:
"We are a relief from the complexity and frustration that embody most MVPD (cable, satellite, etc.) relationships with their customers. We strive to be extremely straightforward... We are about the freedom of on-demand and the fun of binge viewing. We are about the flexibility of any screen at any time. We are about a personal experience that finds for each person the most pleasing titles from around the world."
The random title idea is just one more example of this long-standing attitude to the video-streaming business. If you build it, they will come. That's exactly how Netflix built a global service with 204 million paying customers and annual sales of $25 billion. It's also how the company will adapt to changing market conditions and consumer tastes to stay relevant for many years to come.