Netflix is testing a new feature for its television apps with some users that offers them the option to start viewing without browsing through long lists of titles. The ‘Watch Now’ feature is being added as a button to the profile page that appears on launching Netflix on a smart television or media player. It is a smart move from Netflix, which faces increasing competition for the attention of audiences and investors.
On selecting ‘Watch Now’, users will go straight into the next episode of a show that they are currently watching, a title from their personal list, or one that is recommended by Netflix based on previous viewing. Users also have the option to ‘Play Something Else’ if they want to try another recommendation.
It looks like a sensible move to make Netflix more like watching traditional television than endlessly browsing the aisles of a virtual video store.
The development might be usefully emulated by other online video services, including those of broadcasters, which really should understand their users better.
Netflix is forecast to end the year with 165 million members worldwide, up from just under 140 million over the year.
There are some signs that Netflix may be reaching saturation in its home market. At the end of September, Netflix had 60.62 million paid members in the United States, which was 2.13 million more than at the start of the year.
For any other television service that would be cause for celebration, but Netflix actually lost 126,000 subscribers in the second quarter, reminding investors that all subscription services are subject to churn.
The market leader faces further competition from other online video services, not least Disney+, which has made a strong start.
Some analysts are suggesting that Netflix could lose subscribers in the United States, with one forecasting a reduction of four million in 2020.
Netflix will lose the rights to popular series like Friends and The Office, as well as library movies, as other media companies take back control of their titles.
Comfortable sitcoms like Friends make up a surprising amount of Netflix viewing. Running for 10 seasons over a total of 236 episodes, it delivers familiarity for those that have seen every episode at least once, and for those that were not born when it began in 1994.
Netflix would rather be recognised for its original productions, with which it has had considerable critical and audience success. The Irishman, produced and directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, was watched on over 26 million Netflix accounts within a couple of weeks and is expected to be seen by 40 million within a month of appearing on Netflix and a limited theatrical release.
Netflix paid $105 million for the movie rights and agreed to finance the $125 million production budget, reported to have risen to over $150 million.
The online video company has debts of over $12 billion. Some may be wondering whether its share price, which has been driven higher on expectations of continuing subscriber growth, is sustainable.