Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Top10: Ways Netflix Could Improve its Service

Top10 is a (new) feature where I list the Top Ten things for a given subject. The list is not finite and merely represents personal views on the subject.

There's a heavy debate going on right now over who the best Video On Demand provider is, with the general consent favouring either Amazon's LoveFilm/Prime service or Netflix.

I'm a huge Netflix fan and have been from the very moment they rolled out their service to the UK. In my opinion they have the better catalogue (although I do use both the UK and US sites) and very recently they also showed they could dominate the original (and semi-original) content market.

But it's not to say they are without fault. Here's the Top10 list of everything they need to do to improve their service, in no particular order.

1. Bring Back the Star-Rating System

Up until recently, viewers could leave behind their mark with the built in five-star review system, allowing others to get a general feel for how the community responded to the film. Sure, there's always the written reviews but the stars are a lazy quick and easy way to work out if a movie should be viewed or not. Since a few months ago however, Netflix opted for the more "social" rating system of the Facebook 'like' button, and it's been downhill since then.

I personally hate Facebook for various reasons (not the idea, just the execution) and I could never see myself using the 'like' function on Netflix. Problem is I don't seem to be the only one. Either that or only about 200 people subscribe to Netflix...

The 'like' button does not give a clear indication as to whether a movie was good just that a certain person liked it. Not amazing or passable, just liked. It isn't a very good system. To add further harm, I find it very sad to see 'Grown Ups' has 89 likes but 'In The Heat of the Night' has only 4. The Facebook generation will be the end of us all...

Solution? Bring back the star system. It worked fine. Don't hate us Netflix.
To be fair it still exists in some form however the only way to see or use it is via the search page, but it involves more than one action and I'm often too lazy to resort to such steps.

[I also miss the 'Not Interested' button. Instead I have to resort to rating movies '1 star' just to hide them. I am troubled to think that Netflix believes I have actually watched episodes of 'Jersey Shore' or 'The Only Way Is Essex'.]

2. Integrate with a Review Website

One of the best features of being a LoveFilm/Prime subscriber is you can browse imdb and, if the movie want to watch is available, you are one click away from watching. This is perfect as it means you can check up on both critical and professional reviews for the movie as well as check out other cool movie info. Unfortunately, imdb is owned by Amazon, so I highly doubt they will offer it up to Netflix users (though they have made the Netflix app available on the Kindle store, so who knows).

Netflix did have some deal with RottenTomatoes, however that seems to have vanished, and besides it only really affected US customers. Now that Netflix have opened their digital libraries to the rest of the world they should really consider trying to find something similar as it has a lot of potential in helping people find good movies to watch.

3. Expand the 'Common Sense Media Rating' Feature

One of the great features of the Netflix US site is that when browsing a title, there's often a segment called the 'Common Sense Media Rating' which gives a description about the level of sex/violence/language in the movie (essentially like the Parental Guide page of imdb). It's not for everyone, sure, but parents of children who may want to show them more adult movies can find it most beneficial as it also advises them of the themes in the movie and how best to approach children with them.

A good example is DePalma's The Untouchables.
Rated R in the states (ie 15 for here) Netflix rates it as 'iffy for 14+' and gives a (spoilerific) rundown on what you can expect in the movie (the café bomb, the baseball bat scene etc). What sets it apart is that it then goes on to push parents to question the levels of violence in the movie (realism, necessity for watching) as well as how criminals are portrayed in the media today as compared to back then (they claim the film's portrayal of the media favour Mr Capone), the morality of Eliot Ness' character when he breaks the law himself and also encourages parents to find out the truth behind the events and how the film changed them (quite dramatically as it turns out...).

I understand that normally parents will have seen a movie, and they know best whether their kids should see it, but even I find this system intriguing, no less because it makes me ask questions about the movie that I would never have asked myself otherwise.

It's only available on select titles on the US site but this could have a really big following if it were to embrace the feature and offer it to members globally. Going even further would be to allow user customisation.

4. Merge the Redeeming Features of the Console Apps

Depending on where I am, I find I spend equal amounts of time using every possible device to watch Netflix - my iPod, my Android Phone, my PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. The PC version is arguably great the way it is (barring the improvements I've suggested in this list of course) and the mobile apps offer just what they need. The problem is with the consoles where sometimes one has a great feature that the other doesn't and it would be nice to see some level of consistence between them.

The great thing I love about watching TV shows on my PS3 is that when it starts the next episode, it automatically skips any recap/credits before the actual episode. This to me is perfect as it is rather like using the chapter skip on a DVD (though without pressing anything) while the fast-forward function is clumbsy and often results in me missing a few seconds (shock horror!!).

Another PS3 win is that you can chose the subtitles/episodes before launching into a movie/episode whereas with the Xbox 360 version you have to navigate within the actual player, which can be awkward. Also, the PS3 description is much better for individual episodes.
Oh and PS3 have the whole 'Super HD' viewing format. Would love to see this on the PC.

Xbox 360 have...well they have the Kinect which they haven't fully utilised in their app (voice search anyone?) and this is somewhat disappointing. And they also have the preview function, which is actually pretty cool though I never use it.

5. Subtitles

You would have thought that with the evolution of digital media you would be able to watch any movie with an unlimited choice of subtitle language however this appears to not be the case.

The only option is for English subtitles, which is fair enough as this is a UK based subscription, but the UK comprises of many immigrants for whom English is not a first language. The Dutch are some of the most prolific non-native English speakers in Europe, mainly because all their programming is shown in the original language with Dutch subtitles, so they can learn as they watch.

I understand that not all films have the appropriate subtitle translations but this is a great way for Netflix to push itself forward in the VOD market by offering user-generated subtitles, where members use their linguistic talents to submit their own translations for approval from the community.

Even with just plain English only half the titles have subtitles, which for people of Hard of Hearing can be quite irritating. Does Netflix not care about its disabled members?

6. Content Expiration Page

Netflix generally keeps its catalogue in rotation which means films come and go from the site. They generally give you a months notice however you only know if a film will disappear by actually selecting it. What would be nice is to have a separate page telling us which titles we will no longer be able to stream in the future.

7. Queueing/Want to See

Members of the Netflix (US) postal service have the ability to queue up movies, so when they send one back the next in the queue is automatically sent to them. It would be great to see a similar feature of the streaming site.

The actual 'queueing' of a streaming titleis unessesary however I would love to have a system where I could check a box that says "Watch Later". I hate nothing more than to see a movie that spikes my interest only to go back and forget what it was. I currently save all the movies I want to see as individual tabs, so if Netflix could incorporate this into their site it would make mine (and I hope others) viewing experiences easier.

Better yet, members can connect with each other to see what's on their friends' list and share movies and experiences. Handled well, Netflix could enhance the social viewing aspect they so obviously are trying to initiate.

8. Random Recommendation

One of the big problems with having such a vast library to choose from is that you never know what it is you want to watch because you are literally spoilt for choice. Once I start the movie I'm fine, but for some reason I spend almost 30min choosing that one movie. I know Netflix has the whole 'Taste Profile' features and for the most part they are pretty accurate, but the problem is they still give me too much choice.

What I want to see is a simple "Random" film button I can press that will instantly launch a movie I have never seen before. It would be even better if it would randomise one of my 'Want to See' choices too.

9. Hide 'Watched' Titles

There's nothing worse than scanning the 'Mind-Bending Critically-Acclaimed Thrillers' section on the main page only to realise you have seen them all. You know there's still some gems on the site but Netflix has decided that you should re-watch one of those ones instead. All it needs is a 'Hide Watched Movies' button and that problem is instantly resolved.

10. Suggestion Box

I know that 99% of what they will receive will be "Can you add XXXX" or "When will XXXX be added", but part of what makes a good business is making sure you have a way for people to leave feedback. Currently there is no online support of any kind other than FAQ's on how to mend streaming problems. You can always ring, sure, but that involves waiting through all the call-centre jargon and by the time you actually speak to someone who will listen you've lost any positive criticism you may actually have.

People actually have good ideas sometimes and if you listen to what the community want, others will pay you money to reap the same benefits.

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