With such an expansive library, Netflix is testing out a curated programming block designed to mimic the structure of a tradition television channel.
To combat the burden of choice when it comes to their almost infinitely expansive library, Netflix is testing out a channel dedicated to scheduled programming. Parsing the endless hours of content on Netflix, which really only seems to grow as they venture deeper into originals, has long been one of the biggest complaints of subscribers. The algorithm is only part of the battle, as viewers still have to actually choose what to watch, and it can be much more stressful than it seems.
Netflix recently tested a shuffle play feature, also designed to do the choosing for the viewer based on the internal algorithm, but that feature picked (as the name suggests) randomly, meaning viewers wouldn’t know what they were getting beforehand like they would in traditional television. Though what fans had really asked for was a way to watch something they wanted, like, say, The Office, in a random order, it was a step in the right direction for a streamer that likely has more than enough power to do this. It could be that Netflix feels now is a good time to offer better features, having raised prices again and watching competitors like Amazon and Disney+ gain ground on streaming numbers, not that Netflix likes to share those.
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Per IndieWire, Netflix is soft testing a linear channel called “direct” in France right now. The channel, built into Netflix’s UI, is a curated schedule of Netflix programming, effectively “the Netflix channel.” Execs hope it will alleviate some of the pressures of choosing when viewers just want to be entertained and is being tested in France because their viewing habits are apparently more traditional than most other countries that get Netflix. The soft testing has just begun but will be available to more viewers in December.
Netflix has been steadily making the steps necessary for streamers to eclipse traditional television for a while now, recently going so far as to shell out Narcos, one of their most popular ever shows, to a smaller, free streamer in a move not unlike traditional syndication. A Netflix channel is undeniably a problem for cable, but there’s a chance it won’t really catch on in time. Streamers, especially their original programming, are built on the culture of binging TV. There’s no telling whether the average Netflix user would sit through a Spooky Saturday night block of Castlevania, Stranger Things, and some Mike Flanagan show every week when they can just blaze through whichever one they like the best, and then the other two.
That said, this idea probably isn’t costing Netflix much money, and the goal could well be to just get someone interested in something they wouldn’t normally see, preferably an original. 2020 has been explosive for streamers because everyone’s been stuck at home, and more services pop up seemingly every day. The new era of television is more than likely already upon us, and scraping up the anti-streamers might be the key to market domination. Netflix will likely set its sights next on dealing with password sharing, and soon enough we’ll be right back where we started with cable. Is that a bad thing? Depends on how you feel about bundling.
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