Netflix’s 193 million subscribers (July 2020) spend roughly 2 hours a day of their discretionary time on the platform. However, Netflix says that if they don’t capture the user’s attention in less than 90 seconds, within which the user flicks through several show titles and scans the detailed synopsis of a couple of them, the user is most likely to move on to another activity. Netflix’s latest feature “Shuffle Play” is one of a slew of features the platform has introduced to combat the user’s attention span.
The feature provides the user with an option to play videos based on the learnings of the user preferences on the platform so that users can quickly and easily find content personalised to their taste. It is an attempt to optimise for decision making fatigue and the overall user experience as they compete for the user’s discretionary time with other streaming platforms and social media. When it comes to the discretionary time of a user, users are typically subscribed to more than one streaming platform and could easily flick between these choices. Additionally, with an average user spending approximately 3-4 hours on social media on a daily basis, competing for the user’s discretionary time to retain more users for longer than the 2 hour spend becomes a central focus for Netflix.
When it comes to user experience on streaming platforms, the likes of Netflix, compete on two major decision-making factors – the content library and personalisation. While the competition for content libraries wages ahead between streaming services, Netflix understands that there is also a broader spectrum of competition it faces through the highly personalised consumer tech world. From e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon, fitness devices such as Fitbit to social media platforms like Instagram, personalisation through sophisticated recommender engines has provided a competitive edge in tapping into the individual’s discretionary time and spend.
One of the most fitting examples of this is Instagram’s Explorer tab where users are recommended posts that broaden their engagement with the platform through adjacent interests and the more recent rollout of “suggested posts” (at the bottom of the feed) that focuses on similar interests. We can think about the user’s engagement with Instagram as two-fold, the more sticky engagement with photos of friends and family and the broader engagement with other personalities and pages catering to various niches (e.g. fashion, comedy etc.). For this reason, Instagram is able to use its Explorer tab to extend user time on the platform, when the user has exhausted existing avenues they’re able to find more stimulus on this page or now through recommended posts. Given the quick nature of content consumption on Instagram, these features work well – over 50% of users actively engage with the Explorer tab. Netflix is distinct from this in two ways:
- It is catering to the discovery of more time-consuming form of consumption
- It doesn’t have an initial sticky point equivalent to personal engagement on Instagram, so rather than extending user time it is still in the phase of retaining the user within the application
For this reason, the shuffle feature will really need to focus on optimising its recommendations based on preferences. Through truly enhancing the user experience Netflix can build trust as Instagram has done with the Explorer tab – in fact, Instagram has been so successful in engendering trust in its recommendation engine that it is now able to introduce advertising within the Explorer tab without diminishing its proposition.
As users make a choice of where they spend their discretionary time and consequently their discretionary spend, the recommender engines across the board will continually optimise for ease of discovery and consumption of content. We can postulate that the shuffle play as part of the homepage template optimization will move Netflix towards the ultimate future where we can simply turn on Netflix, and with a degree of certainty, know that the Netflix algorithm knows our interests better than ourselves – making the watching experience seamless and effortless. The success of the feature will become as important as Netflix’s content library.