Why Does Netflix Bury Their Original Programming?

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Netflix has bought or developed dozens of original series and films over the last decade, and some of them are quite good. So why do they make it so frustrating to find them?

I’m a Netflix fan. I love their original programming, but I hate their web and mobile interfaces. New films and series are often buried so deep that I sometimes give up trying to find them; scrolling through pages of stuff that I’ve already seen or have no interest in ever watching is not fun.

Case in point, two compelling new originals hit Netflix this year: Duncan Jones’ Mute and Steven Soderbergh’s Godless. A few days after their release, I launched Netflix and was presented with a splash page: “49 TV shows and movies added in the last week,” and a link — I followed the link, but the list did not include either original. (The list wasn’t even alphabetical, which was annoying.) Weird.

Back to the main page. I scrolled down a bit and discovered this header: Netflix Originals. Bingo, right? Not really. I clicked and was shown a group of images highlighting a seemingly random list of stuff (some new, some old, some more stuff I’ve already seen). This list was not organized by date or title, and neither original was listed there either. What gives?

On top of all that, the list scrolled to the right (who scrolls to the right? It’s 2018, c’mon guys). Making matters worse, the mobile interface wildly differs from the web interface (and the Netflix interface via Roku on my Smart TV is somewhere in the middle). It’s more than annoying, it’s frustrating and confusing — it’s also a bad user experience.

And one more thing. At the very top of the web interface is a series of links: Home, TV Shows, Movies, Originals, Recently Added, My List. (This list does not appear in the mobile version). Click any of these links and you’ll get yet more random lists… and these differ from the corresponding lists on the main page.

I’m all for discovery and surprise, but what I really want is logic and consistency.

Eventually, I finally found Mute and Godless. Unfortunately, I gave up on the lists of lists (there’s only so much scrolling I can take). I actually found both originals via the Netflix search tool, which actually works really well (and performs consistently across platforms). So, long story, it’s actually really easy to find new originals, if you know what they’re called.

I’m making a lot out of a poorly designed interface. To be fair, Netflix isn’t alone in this, as YouTube TV, Hulu, and Amazon each have their own interface challenges too. The big difference is that Netflix has been at this a lot longer than their competition, and this really is their only business (YouTube, Hulu, and Amazon all have other features and functionality like user-created content, live TV, and online shopping).

The biggest challenge Netflix faces in the coming years will be retaining their subscription base. When Disney enters the game next year it’s going to be a feeding frenzy to secure every possible eyeball, and the surest way to churn your audience is via a terrible interface. Netflix is spending billions to grow their original programming, hopefully they’re also investing a few million to improve the overall user experience too (if the cost is one less Adam Sandler original, so be it).