Jed Cohen

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How I Would Change: Netflix

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Let’s call this the start of a semi-regular series.  In each of these entries, I’ll take a look at some product that I interact with and point out a few ways I would improve it.  Almost like I was a product manager at the company.  Except I’m not so as always these entires represent only my opinion and not the opinion of anyone I’m associated with.

I’m going to assume you know what Netflix is.  If you don’t, I’d recommend checking out their website and then coming back to finish this post.

I’m going to break Netflix down into the two services they offer – rental DVDs via mail and streaming movies via the internet.  We can’t really change the DVDs via the mail that much.  You could get more disks at once for the same money.  Netflix could stock more disks or build more distribution facilities, but those wouldn’t really translate into benefits for consumers (since disks are delivered next day anyway).  Or they could open physical stores, but we’ve seen that and it hasn’t exactly been working so well.

But we can improve the streaming experience.  And we can do it in a few ways.

Shift control away from the computer.

In order to stream Netflix content to your television, you’ll need an Xbox 360PS 3WiiRokuBoxee Box, or some other kind of streaming device.  But most of the time watching movies on your TV doesn’t actually start there – it starts on your computer.  This is where you add content to your “instant queue,” which is the main pipeline of content from Netflix to your device.

But what if you’re not at your computer?  What if you’re at your TV and you want to watch something that’s not in your instant queue?  Then you need to get up, walk to your computer, search for what you’re looking for, and add it to your queue.  Not exactly ideal.  So let’s add the ability to modify your instant queue from your device.

Yes, this presents problems.  You’d have to input text into a search field using your device’s remote.  This means a lot of arrowing around a keyboard on your screen to type in a title, but a predictive search option will help with that.  And given the convergence between television and computing that devices like the Boxee Box are fostering, you might see more QWERTY keyboards coming to remote controls sooner rather than later.  In addition, the rise of the smartphone means that Netflix could create a mobile application to let users interact with their account and alter their instant queue.

As streaming continues to grow, Netflix will need to shift the management of the instant queue away from the computer and to where people already are – their couches (and maybe their pockets too).

Redesign with the family in mind.

The average US household had 2.59 people in it in 2000.  And I can bet you that at least a portion of those 2.59 people did not all want to watch the same thing at the same time.  So the second major change that Netflix needs to make is to allow multiple family members to establish their own identity within one household account.  Netflix addresses this somewhat with profiles, which are sub-accounts that let you set up individual DVD queues and allocate a set number of disks to each queue at a time, but they don’t translate into the watch instantly queue.  By establishing profiles for the watch instantly queue, Netflix would bring an additional level of customization to their streaming service.

At the same time, this would add a layer of complexity, which can translate into user frustration.  As such, Netflix might have to redesign aspects of its user interface (to change profiles) and device registration process (perhaps to specify a default profile).  There are difficulties with this, given the fact that most of the devices people use to stream Netflix are made by other companies.  But building this functionality into the streaming experience now will provide them with a leg up as more and more people shift away from traditional cable/satellite towards digital platforms.

And for a company whose revenue stream is based entirely on subscriptions, that can’t be a bad thing.

So that’s what I would do to improve upon Netflix (which is already pretty great).  But I’m curious – what would you do?  Leave a comment to let me know!

Written by Jed

March 12th, 2010 at 5:52 pm