With no disrespect intended to any other streaming service, Netflix is the biggest of them all. In the eyes of a lot of people, it’s also the best. Were it not for the success of Netflix, we wouldn’t have an Amazon Prime. It’s also unlikely that Disney would ever have had the confidence to launch Disney Plus. The age of streaming television and movies became a reality because of Netflix. We have no idea how we would have got through 2020 without it. It’s been a life-saver, but it can also be a life-stealer.
While there might be few things better than settling down on the sofa (or in bed) for a six-hour-long Netflix binge when you have nothing better to do, getting that binge started is easier said than done. If you’ve had a Netflix subscription for a long time, you’ve probably already seen a lot of the obvious choices for you to watch. You’ll have been among the first people to jump aboard what’s popular or viral at the moment, and you’ll also have delved deep into the platform’s enormous archives. That means you’ll probably spend a very long time scrolling through options before you eventually settle on something to watch. A study was performed into this (because studies are performed into everything these days, apparently) in 2016 and found that people spend an average of nineteen minutes looking through the options before hitting the ‘play’ button. If that sounds familiar to you, help us at hand. Your days of aimless scrolling will soon be over.
At some point during the first half of 2021 – possibly as soon as next month, depending on where you are in the word – Netflix is going to introduce its long-awaited shuffle button. The company began testing the feature on a limited basis in a small number of territories last year and then spent the very end of 2020 assessing the data that it had gathered from that experiment. The data must have been good – and so must the feedback – because ‘shuffle play’ has now been approved for general use and will be rolled out across the world by June 2021.
At the moment, we don’t know which of the two trialed forms of the shuffle feature Netflix has decided to go with. One was a ‘shuffle play’ button that appeared directly beneath a user’s profile picture on the login screen. The other was an option called ‘play something’ hidden away on the side menu. As of the time of writing, Netflix hasn’t confirmed which of the options gave it the best results or whether they’ve decided to scrap or amalgamate both features to go with something new. They also won’t commit to a specific date for the introduction of the service beyond the six-month window they’ve already announced.
Some of you might be wondering what the point of a completely random ‘play something’ button might be, given that Netflix’s collection is enormous and much of the content won’t be of any interest to you at all. That’s not exactly how things are going to work. The shuffle system isn’t going to be exactly the random chance you get from online slots like Rainbow Riches, where anything can happen next after you hit the ‘spin’ button. It’s probably fair to compare Netflix to an online slots website in terms of both the sheer number of options available and the layout of its website, but not in the way that it’s going to line up content for you. Try as they might, online slots players don’t get to wield any influence over the outcome of the next spin. The shuffle system is an intelligent algorithm and will take your prior viewing history into account when it’s deciding what you might want to watch next. You’ll be given something that’s in keeping with your taste profile, which is established via your viewing history.
That in itself might be a problem for some viewers because those of us with fairly eclectic tastes know that it isn’t always accurate, and it can become confused if you shift from one genre to another fairly regularly. We’ve all raised an eyebrow when we’ve seen something like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” offered to us after finishing a horror movie, or a suggestion that we might be interested in watching “Dodgeball” after the credits have rolled on “Event Horizon.” It’s an imperfect science, and we won’t always want to follow the recommendations, but we’ll have the option of hitting the ‘shuffle’ button again and seeing if the next suggestion is more in line with our tastes. It’s still easier than spending up to half an hour mindlessly scrolling from one menu to the next. It might even result in us expanding our horizons and watching things that we wouldn’t normally give any consideration to – especially if the remote is too far away and we can’t summon the necessary energy to move off the couch!
This is just one way that Netflix is currently trying to give you the things you want to see without having to look too hard to find them. The “New & Popular” tab that was also introduced last year is another way of finding great content as it gives you the shows and films that are being watched and enjoyed the most on that particular day or week. Keeping an eye on that tab means you won’t miss out on the shows that the majority of your friends and family are watching at the same time as you. There will be more innovations coming in the next year, too. Having broken through the two hundred million subscriber barrier at the end of last year (an achievement that was helped along by people seeking entertainment during lockdowns and quarantine periods), Netflix has more people to cater for than ever before. They also have more money because of it. That means more exclusive content and more great TV shows and movies than ever before. We can’t say for certain when life might get back to normal for most of us – but we can say that Netflix will continue to do its best to entertain us until that happens.