Netflix has been testing a new ‘shuffle play’ feature that presents a programme recommended on the basis of their user profile. The aim is to avoid the problem of deciding what to watch that many users face when confronted with a large choice of viewing options.

The new button appears on the Netflix app for television devices for some users, on the home screen, beneath the user profile icon.

The idea is to give users something to watch by default, based on their profile. That could be a title that the user is currently watching, one that has been saved to their list, or one that is similar to something previously watched.

In other words, it will make it more like a television experience, where you turn it on and there is something to watch.

Ideally, that will be something that you actually want to watch, which remains a challenge, as viewers have various emotional need states.

The term ‘shuffle play’ has long been associated with music playback, allowing tracks to be played back in a random order. Apple even released a product, the iPod Shuffle, in 2005, which played back tracks in random order.

Yet music is used rather differently to other media. It bears repetition and can benefit from an element of random playback, at least for popular music tracks that do not necessarily depend upon a particular sequencing.

Another version of the concept being tested involves a ‘Play Something’ option in the menu bar.

The problem with online video services is that while they may have tens of thousands of titles and episodes, some of which users may have already shortlisted for viewing, it can still be difficult to decide what to watch. So users end up scrolling through rows of images in search of inspiration, often failing to find anything new.

Back in 1992, Bruce Springsteen complained of having ‘57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)’. It seems that endless choice has not made deciding what to watch any easier.

The opportunity to let Netflix choose what users will want to watch may seem appealing to some, but it rather goes against the proposition of video on demand, which has been presented as what you want, when, you want, where you want.

Some cynics have even suggested that Netflix might be inclined to promote their own original productions. After all, television channels spend a lot of time promoting their own programming and trying to persuade viewers to continue watching.

Netflix says it is testing the feature and will compare the results from different tests to determine whether to offer it as part of the service. “We run these tests in different countries and for different periods of time — and only make them broadly available if people find them useful.”