NetFlix Ideas – Improving a Streaming Experience

NetFlix LogoYou have to be impressed with NetFlix. Seriously. It’s a terrific service, particularly the instant streaming on the Roku XDS. Excellent picture quality, crisp sound, and a solid catalogue of ever-changing content. At CES, several companies announced that they would include a dedicated NetFlix button on their remote controls. This is a company that is getting it right.

That said, here are a few of the features I would like to see NetFlix introduce:

More flexible parental controls. Right now, NetFlix has some basic parental control settings. You can set it so that videos under a certain rating — like PG — are unavailable to your NetFlix enabled devices. But that’s sort of a problem, since it blocks both you and your kids. So after the kids go to bed, forget streaming Rated PG-13 and R movies through your Roku. It’s locked. Even the Wii has a setting where you can block certain games. Allow parents to set profiles so that you can limit access based on user profiles.

Better control of the Instant Queue. This ties back to the parental controls. If you watch a regular R-rated movie, your kids can just click the “resume” button and pick up where you left off. And even if they don’t, they may think that a movie like “The Human Centipede” is a nature flick from the Discovery Channel. (It’s not.) It would be nice to be able to block kids from even seeing certain movie boxes, while allowing you to surf what you want with a pass code.

Spoiler alerts. It’s interesting to skim reviews when deciding if you want to add something to your Instant Queue. Too many people include critical spoilers in their write ups. It would be nice to give the authors (and the community) a little button that notes that the review includes spoilers. Heck, maybe you can even allow people to highlight the spoiler section, so that it just comes up with the section blocked out. That would allow reviewers to self-censor sections without deleting their entire reviews. And then, after the movie, you could decide if you wanted to go back and read those sections. There are actually some interesting discussions in there that you can read after you’ve seen the movie.

Social sharing. It’s really surprising that they haven’t incorporated any social features into the NetFlix site. I mean, most people want to know what their friends think of a particular movie. If our taste matches their tastes, we may be more likely to trust their movie recommendations. Even the Apple iTunes store has a service like Apple’s Ping. I want to find my friends and share reviews and recommendations with them. They already have a sizable following on Facebook and on Twitter.

Marketing Perspecitive

Not only are these features well within reach of NetFlix, they would derive clear benefits from exploring them. Now, I put on my marketer’s hat and offer a few suggestions.

First off, they already crowdsourced their recommendations engine. This famous NetFlix contest raised awareness…and created a fantastic resource for their service. People suddenly became interested in NetFlix and for good reason. NetFlix showed that they cared about their core service and did something creative to improve it. They could steal a page from their own book and crowd source the development of certain features. If done properly, they could continue to innovate, provide improved service, and incentivize and reward innovation.

Second, they could add parent-friendly features and earn crucial support from DVD-exhausted parents. Ever try to organize a massive collection of Disney and Pixar DVDs only to discover that some of them are either lost or scratched? Heck, you’d have me sold just by telling me that the movies start instantly. And that my kids won’t get bombarded by trailers and commercials. Rolling out parent-friendly features — and promoting it aggressively where parents go for information — would get people to explore the affordable streaming-only option. If you have the right content (and at this point they do), parents would be comfortable about streaming content into their homes.

Third, they could mobilize their existing fan base using social media. Allow people to interact with their peers, form groups, and personalize their NetFlix experience. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as the Facebook privacy settings, but a little bit of customization and socialization would be welcome to some folks. Plus, they could give existing NetFlix fans ways of sharing their enthusiasm with people who don’t subscribe. Yet.

NetFlix is an important service that is helping to pave the way to a world media is paid for by consumers and, back catalogues are still valuable, and distribution isn’t limited to retail stores. Between services like NetFlix, Hulu, Apple TV, Roku, Boxee and others, the streaming world is just starting to get truly interesting.

More to explore:

Roku XDS – Day 1

Today is Day 1 with the new Roku XDS. Right after the CES 2011 announcements, I surveyed the new technology and determined that the Roku was the right technology for me. Well, for now, at least.

For those not familiar, the Roku is one of many devices that streams Internet video to your television. NetFlix and Hulu are among the best-known streaming sources, but there are others out there. The actual Roku is just a small box that connects your television to the Internet with a pretty menu. If you want to learn more, read the New York Times series on The Sofa Wars. I wrote a piece called Web Meets Living Room, if you want to check that out too.

Two important points influenced my gadget buying decision:

  1. First, the device had to work on an analog television. Most devices, including the Boxee and the Apple TV were strictly for televisions with HDMI connections. Roku offers both HDMI and RCA connections, and I needed RCA.
  2. Second, it had to be easy. Really easy. Reading reviews suggested that Boxee was a little more challenging than Roku because it offers more options. That’s fine for me, but the rest of the family wants easy.

I bought the Roku XDS, which is the top of the line model for $99.

So, setup was easy. You plug it in, it boots up, looks for a connection, and you’re ready to go. You do have to register for a Roku.com account and give them a credit card, but there is no Roku subscription fee. The credit card is for making purchases, I suppose.

Connecting NetFlix was also really simple. I’ve already linked NetFlix to the Wii, the iPad, the iPod Touch, and obviously my computer (iMac). Adding it to Roku was just as easy and within minutes, we were watching movies in our Instant Queue. Simple.

There was a weird problem with a connection error. NetFlix offered a live chat option and Steve, the customer service guy, was able to help me fix it within about 15 minutes. He instructed me to hold the reset button on the bottom of the box for 60 seconds and then let the system reboot. That worked, and I haven’t had a problem yet.

So far, I have hooked up a bunch of widgets that help you stream content. So far I’ve added an application that allows me to see photos from my Facebook account, something that gives me the local weather, and a really nice app that pulls news from different television channels.

Initial impressions:

  • Video quality is better than expected. Nice clear picture and sound with no problems syncing.
  • Control panel on Roku.com website is too basic. NetFlix is a better model because you can add and remove content from your computer or your television and it all works together. I’d like to see my apps and other resources through my web login, so that if I had to, I could add and remove features remotely.
  • So far, I haven’t found a way to search for video content beyond the offered channels. There’s a site called Clicker.com that has an amazing service, but I haven’t really figured out how to get it to work on the Roku. I read that you can make it work through NetFlix, but I really think it would be nice to have an actual widget or app of Clicker.com. There appear to be other widgets that provide similar resources, so I will be checking those out for sure.

We’ve had the Internet in my living room for a long time now, streamed through my PowerBook. But now it’s up on the TV screen, which is a natural and comfortable way to consume video content. A nice sofa beats an office chair any day.

At one time, the most advanced technology we had in our entire house was the television. But then the computer came, and the television felt like a relic of the past. In a reversal of fortune for the humble television, video streaming devices like the Roku — and some really impressive new TVs — are pulling people back into the family room.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to hop off the computer and go watch television. For a change.

More good readin’:

Web Meets Living Room: Sofa Wars Introduction

Not long ago, the New York Times began the series “The Sofa Wars,” which chronicles the real-time battle to bring Internet — particularly video services — into the home. This may seem like a head-scratcher for many people, since most Americans already have this service. It’s just called something different: television.

Photo credit: dee from morguefile.com

Over the years, television has struggled to maintain viewership. The growing number of distractions provided by the Internet has causes dramatic declines in broadcast viewership. There are fewer people watching TV on their regular television sets and more staring into computer monitors. The content and experience have traditionally been different, but this is all changing.

Sites like Hulu have become web-based, go-to destinations for TV shows. But there are only so many shows you can watch, and although I love my TiVo, there’s only so many you can record. So Hulu has become my back-up source for catching up on television shows. The content has been strictly limited by certain networks, but Hulu Plus (a paid premium service) promises to provide more consistent television programming.

Certain cable companies are also promising to help bring television to the Net, including Verizon with their pending Verizon iPad application. This seems particularly promising, since Apple’s limitations have meant that you cannot watch Flash-based video on Hulu.com directly on your iPad (built to be HTML5 friendly). If Verizon provides this kind of app, it will clearly give many people a reason to stay with their cable service. After all, Hulu’s premium service provides a pretty compelling reason for dropping cable television, but Verizon’s service may add more overall value for iPad users. We’ll see.

The battle for the sofa (as the New York Times calls it) is just beginning to get truly interesting. For content creators, it means a distribution channel that previously did not exist. Specifically, Internet based entertainment will be available to people watching web videos in their living room. Sure, they can watch videos on their computer, but that experience is not quite the same as a nice, big HDTV. Familiar set top devices like the TiVo, game consoles, and the BluRay player offer direct connections from the Internet. Plus, new players like the Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee, Roku, are all trying to elbow their way into the living room.

It took me a long time to get here, so if you’re still here, thanks. If you create content or manage content marketing campaigns, it is important to understand how all of these channels work. They represent powerful new pull-marketing channels that will help you connect your content with your target audience. It is less about interruption marketing and more about putting the right content in the optimal format, so that your audience can access it when they are ready.

For example, if I am in the market to purchase a car, I am going to research my top choices online. I will almost certainly read reviews, watch videos, and explore bit of information I can find before I go to the dealership. I will happily pull your marketing messages, including iPad apps and promotional videos, if it helps me to better understand the value proposition of your product.

But after I make my purchase, I don’t want you to keep pushing messages at me. It doesn’t help me, so I am going to tune it out, which wastes your marketing dollars.

We’re in the early days of this return-to-the-living-room technological revolution. It pays to start thinking about how you can reformat your message so that it’s viable for these new channels, which will include both the big screen (TV), the computer screen, and the mobile screen. If you don’t, there’s no shortage of content creators — including competing marketers — who are actively looking to satisfy the pull-content desires of consumers.

Also check out:

TV Apps Kickoff – 3 Things You Need to Know

TV Guide TV app available through YahooThe 2010 Superbowl officially kicked off the Age of TV Apps. The technology has been around for a few years and is already available to many people. But Vizio’s TV app Superbowl commercial was the kickoff heard ’round the world.

So what are TV apps? In a most basic sense, TV apps are like the applications you download for your iPhone. Small, limited-use software that allows you to personalize your hardware.

New stuff that was once only available for your computer — and then for your iPhone — is now available for your television. If you have Direct TV or Verizon FiOS, some of this is already baked into your cable box. Obviously you can get TV apps on the Vizio TV, but also on many Samsung and Sony televisions as well.

You can already use things like Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook on your TV.

Here are three things you should know about TV Apps

1. The technical field is relatively open.
Sure, there are some key players like Yahoo who have already set themselves as leaders, but that can change.  Currently, Yahoo controls the application and administers the software development kit (SDK). Note: From our personal experience, Yahoo was somewhat slow in distributing the SDKs to developers. That’s unfortunate because that could irritate programmers who could create an open-source system that could render Yahoo’s TV Apps technology obsolete. If you have the desire to create apps (or even a completely new OS), the time is now. The tech is in place for you to build the next great widget, gadget, social network, or living room app.

2. TV apps will present design challenges.

Weather TV app available through DirectTV

TV apps will face several user interface challenges. The most notable is that most people don’t have a keyboard on their television remote control. Sure, you can pull one up on the screen, but as you can imagine, typing with a little remote-control button is a pretty poor user experience. If you’ve used a Wii remote to create a Mii character, you know how tedious it can be to type out a long name. Designers will clearly make the difference between apps that succeed or fail. The old design rules will need to evolve to take advantage and address the limitations of a 10-foot interface.

3. Content & marketing opportunities will need to evolve.
The iPhone and other smart phones forced content developers and marketers to rethink the way we package messages. Long-form had to give way to shorter, more relevant messages. If not for mobile communications limitations, Twitter would have never gained a foothold in society. Face it, a 140 character message fits better on a cell phone screen than, say, a PowerPoint presentation. People who mastered the Twitter format (including URL shorteners) emerged pretty quickly as masters of the medium. And the marketers quickly caught on with brand messages. That’s a long way of saying that the new language of TV apps is still in flux. If you want to create content or marketing messages for TV apps, try to figure out what works with this new interface.

If you’re already exploring TV apps, congratulations. You’re probably going to have a head start on this unique and exciting new communications channel. I look forward to seeing what you create.

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