If I open Netflix or Hulu to watch television, I am confronted with a wall of choices. When so much variety is placed in front of me, I feel inclined to browse through and find the “best” option. It adds up to a lot of time and frustration - and it’s not just my problem. Writing Netflix suggestion guides has become a popular topic for many publications.
Content distributors have never had to grapple with this mass indecisiveness before. Traditional television was transmitted over radio frequencies. Each frequency can only contain one option at a time, and there were a limited number of frequencies to transmit on. Even with an average cable package, there were only 60 channels to choose from.
Blockbuster was the closest comparison. They had limited floor space but could pack at least a few hundred titles into a store. Distributing on the Internet is the extreme case - infinite options mean infinite choices.
To save people the trouble of finding the “best” option, perhaps Netflix should replicate TV channels. A “channel” would simulate the traditional TV viewing experience, which Netflix doesn’t do. Netflix makes you choose what you want to start. Traditional television is continuous and gives you something that is likely already happening. Your choice is to continue watching or change the channel.
With no frequency restrictions and its library, Netflix could create an infinite number of TV channels. Their machine learning engine could create a perfect variety of channels that you will want to watch.
When you change the channel, they could also have the content play from the most interesting part. It’s simulated, so they can show the scene that has the highest likelihood of getting you to keep watching. Just how people judge a book by its cover, people can’t visualize what a movie is about from the name and a brief preview. If I change the channel and it’s perfectly timed to start playing a car chase from a popular movie, there’s a good chance I’ll keep watching.
All media companies now realize that streaming is the future and are coming out with their own platforms. The cost of content is also rising as there are more views and competition. This dynamic is making platforms optimize around flagship content paired with filler content. Think of Stranger Things vs. The Office. Both deserve high spend, but for different reasons.
Filler content is important for maintaining continuous platform engagement. Maximizing the discovery and utilization of it should be a top goal. Simulating TV channels could be a great option to achieve that.