Netflix is testing programme promotions between episodes to surface other titles in its catalogue, a development that has apparently upset some users. Yet it is surprising that it has taken Netflix so long to experiment with something that is so central to promotion on traditional television channels.
The promotions, which are personalised and can be skipped, are being tested with a subset of Netflix subscribers.
“At Netflix, we conduct hundreds of tests every year so we can better understand what helps members more easily find something great to watch,” Netflix said in a statement.
“A couple of years ago, we introduced video previews to the television experience, because we saw that it significantly cut the time members spend browsing and helped them find something they would enjoy watching even faster. In this particular case, we are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster.”
Having evolved from a video rental library, although it uses personalisation to generate recommendations, Netflix still relies on users to browse through rows of titles in the search for something to watch.
Traditional linear broadcast channels have long recognised the value of promotions scheduled between programmes. It is one of the main ways that they promote and brand their programming.
It is somewhat surprising that it has taken Netflix so long to pick up on this.
However, there is a risk that subscribers, who have grown used to binge viewing episodes back to back, will be resistant to the introduction of interstitial programme promotions.
Significantly, many of the online commentators have referred negatively to the introduction of ‘adverts’, although Netflix does not carry commercial advertising.
One of the distinctive features of Netflix, and also its rival Amazon, is that it is free of adverts, in contrast to commercial television channels that are frequently interrupted by intrusive advertising.
Netflix has around 125 million paid members worldwide, of which around 56 million are in the United States.
While it is one thing to test the technical capability to deliver promotions, it is another to produce appropriate and appealing creative to promote programmes. That is an art in itself, to which broadcasters dedicate significant resources.
Amazon has also experimented with promotions but given their massive investments in original programming, online subscription services have had a rather rudimentary approach to promotion.
Online services have considerable advantages in being able to target promotions to the viewer and viewing context. Yet ensuring that the experience complements, rather than detracts from the viewing experience will be critical.
Initial online reaction suggests that the introduction may have come as a surprise to some but it seems to be an inevitable development.