Earlier this month US streaming giant Netflix announced a new “Netflix Recommended TV” initiative which will see it endorse specific TV sets that meet in-house criteria for performance and user experience.
It’s understandable the firm wants users to have a good experience, free of buffering and slow, laggy menus and so plans to flag up those TVs which have enough processing power to run its app properly.
But there’s also something bemusing about a company responsible for such a poor User Interface (UI) as Netflix’s daring to critique other people’s work.
Back in 2013 the firm moved to a single design across most devices, ensuring that users get the same experience regardless of device.
Which would be great if it was user-friendly, but it’s not.
On the TV version of the app, including the one on YouView boxes and the Playstation, two of the top three rows of content are given over to TV shows and films which are“popular” and “trending now”, both of which effectively mean the same thing but are broken out into separate lists.
Nonsensically your personalised list of bookmarked shows and films appears below these, so you have to scroll past what other people are watching before you can access the things you want to enjoy.
Recommending content is fine, but the user’s own wants and tastes should always take precedence.
And even where the recommendations are more sensibly laid out between traditional genre categories, the actual matches are pretty dubious.
Watch a film like Flightplan and it assumes that you’re interested in other films “with a strong female lead” rather than merely being interested in thrillers or conspiracy films regardless of the star’s gender.
My “Because you watched Little Britain” list contains some real oddities – what’s the thinking behind including Seed of Chucky or Saw or Educating Yorkshire?
Why did my watching Abduction lead Netflix to think I want to see The Proposal? I’ve already see Morning Glory so why does it appear in some of the lists of suggested content?
But worse than the dubious nature of many suggestions is the truly terrible, limited search facility.
Click on any TV episode or film and you’ll be presented with a screen largely devoted to a huge background image, a short synopsis and a separate list of cast and crew names.
Yet these names, which are often duplicated in the synopsis, serve no purpose – you can’t highlight them and click to see what other content they appear in.
If you’re in the info screen for Morning Glory and want to know which other Harrison Ford films Netflix has the rights to you’re forced to access a separate search screen and manually type in his name, repeating the same click-heavy process if you also want to see if there are any other Rachel McAdams or Diane Keaton films in the library.
This is such a clunky way of doing things, especially when you consider that growing numbers of people are accessing the service on their big screen TV where there’s no native keyboard or touch-screen and so have to move a cursor around the screen one letter at a time.
If Netflix really wants to boost the experience its subscribers have, it probably needs to look a little closer to home and build a UI that makes it easier to find content and get to the shows you’ve bookmarked, rather than worrying whether set makers have included fast enough processors in their kit.