During an interview with Ben Thomson, Eugene Wei has the following response to a question digging into Netflix solving the “I just want something on in the background” use case:

Yeah, that’s a great point. I also do hope that this macro shock forces the streaming companies to think a little bit harder about innovating on their user interfaces. I still think it’s a little bit of a shame that most of them still present the grid of icons. Everybody has probably had that experience of just paralysis where you’re just scrolling around, you’re like, “What do I watch? I don’t know what to choose.”

Linear TV, where you just turn it on and something is playing, is not necessarily the model to imitate and the old TV Guide is not the ideal, but I do think there was something about how when I used to turn on my TV, SportsCenter would just be playing and then I would kind of get sucked in. Everybody has that experience where one the movies that you have on DVD and you never watch, but then suddenly it’s like Shawshank Redemption is on or something and you just sit down and just start watching it. I would love to see more innovation on interfaces to increase the value of your library and to make it more attractive or salient for viewers.

Both the question and response were incredibly insightful. I haven’t had a regular cable subscription in a very long time and rarely watch broadcast television but it does seem Netflix is moving slowly in that direction by having more and more shows autoplaying. Unfortunately, because the viewer knows they have the option to go find something different, the bar for them to continue watching the existing stream is incredibly high.

The exchange also got me brainstorming of a format that’s between linear and grid and I couldn’t help but think of TikTok. It’s linear in that you can only go forward and yet you have the ability to both skip and rely on its recommendation engine to learn and give you what you want. This model works great for TikTok where the clips are short and I wonder if the same approach might work for a standard streaming service if the clips were just trailers or previews. Imagine opening up Netflix and seeing a TV-like channel that just has trailers. If something looks good you can start watching the full thing. If it looks terrible you can skip to the next one. And over the course of all this watching Netflix is able to learn what you’re interested in and hopefully give you better and better choices. Another company that might benefit from this approach is Quibi - they’re focusing on shorter shows where a TikTok-like experience might work well with the shorter show durations.

Every streaming service has nearly the same user experience and it’s reasonable given the nascency of the field. It will be interesting to see each evolves based on the problems they’re trying to solve and what they’re all trying to optimize.

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