Even though I have some strong reservations about Netflix’s model¹, I thought I should give it a go and test it, as most of my friends use it.
It also happened that my Kodi box was messed up and it was taking me too long to get my act together and re-install it, so this was a good occasion to try Netflix.
What I find was a service that was quite far from my expectations. And on the whole, not very enjoyable.
Worth noting: this reflects my experience using Netflix in February 2018 on a PS4, using the official Netflix app.
On the plus side, things were simple, the app mostly straight forward (for any basic action any way) and the videos started immediately (optic fiber is a wonder). Netflix will also automatically do a small jump back in the video after a pause, helping you get back in context. Not ground breaking, but a nice touch.
It should also be mentioned that Netflix produces quite a fair amount of content now (and has for several years), a lot of which I enjoy.
On the down side… where to start?
GOTTA WATCH MORE STUFF
First of all, the worst thing probably: Netflix’s insistence on shoving more content, always more content, down your throat.
It starts with the fact that simply looking at something you might potentially want to watch (ie: selecting a show or a film’s card to read its description) will automatically play its trailer. A loud, annoying and – more often than not – crass trailer, preferably.
Also, as soon as the credits to an episode of a TV series or to a film start rolling, you see a notification “next episode will start in 10, 9, 8… seconds”. If you don’t want to watch it, you have to jump to your controller to stop it and keep watching the credits. Yes, believe it or not, not all of us want to binge-watch a series.
And if you thought the “back” button would cancel the impending action, no luck, it takes you back to the TV series or film’s landing page. Which of course autoplays the trailer again.
If this doesn’t sound annoying on its own, imagine how enjoyable it is after you have just finished watching something even mildly intense and the screen starts blaring, at 2 AM, with content you’ve literally just seen.
Don’t get me wrong, I can understand some people want to skip the credits. What I can’t understand is why I can’t tell the app that I don’t, thank you very much. After a good episode, I find one often wants a few minutes to process it, think it through, maybe even – gosh – discuss with the actual human beings you’re watching it with.
Netflix essentially acts in a way that screams “NO TIME, GOTTA WATCH THE NEXT ONE! GO! BINGE!”.
(An extra annoyance is that the behaviour is also inconsistent. Netflix offers the possibility of skipping both opening and ending credits: skipping end credits is a *passive* choice but skipping opening the credits to a show is an *active* choice, requiring you to press a button every time.)
None of these two behaviours can be disabled, as far as I could see (and I did look, several times), and in fact, the settings don’t give you any real control over how Netflix functions. You either like it or leave it.
A simple interface that still manages to be a little confusing
Another annoyance is that the interface is a bit confusing, at least when using the app on a PS4.
X is play and pause, which is pretty intuitive.
O is back (but not cancel, as we’ve seen).
Anything after that is not mentioned in the (overly) minimal UI: triangle opens up a search, R3 (clicking on the right stick) will show some extra info on screen during a video (elapsed/total time, current video bitrate)
But toggling subtitles on or off? You need to get out of the video, go change the subtitles settings, and get back into the video. It may be an obvious way to do this to some people, and it may be my years of using Kodi, but this was really annoying to me.
Another small annoyance is not being able to quickly and discretely know how long is left to go in a film or series. I’d like to at least be able to bring up the on-screen display (menu) without having to pause, but it doesn’t appear to be possible.
(On Kodi, I can get my phone out and look at Kodi’s remote control app, Kore, to see how long is left. I understand this is something that the Netflix app also does, but given I don’t use Google Play and that the app is not a FOSS app and requires extensive Android permissions (retrieve running apps, read phone status and identity) I didn’t try it.
Recommendations fall short
Lastly, and maybe I didn’t use Netflix long enough to benefit from their famed content classification (into over 75 000 micro-genres), but the content being pushed to my home screen just felt dull. Not bad, just dull. I tried to actively put a few things in my list of things to watch, to see if it would help, but I kept getting essentially what Netflix thought everyone should be watching (“our new feature film”, “our new TV show everyone is watching”, etc.).
It didn’t help also that the few films I actively looked for where not available (Deadpool comes to mind).
I can easily accept Netflix would have become better at recommending stuff to me over time but I have no interest in using it ever more than sporadically, given how annoying the experience is.
An uncivilised experience
All in all, I found the Netflix experience to be rather uncivilised: throwing loud video trailers at you while you try to read a film or a show’s short summary, stacking content back to back without giving you much choice, giving you minimal control over the overall experience.
The only way to get it to shut up is to go into a series’ episode listing and wait there, or pretend you want to do a search. Not what I was looking for, thanks.
At the end of the day, it feels the whole experience is designed around a simple principle: quick, play something else, otherwise people might actually go do something else.
Just like infinite scrolling on websites, this behaviour is toxic and needs to go.
1. To cite the main ones:
- over centralisation of content leading to stress on the network (compared to peer-to-peer’s more “virtuous” use of the network)
- extensive use of DRM, forcing even free and open source browsers to implement them
- privatised version of a “blanket licence”, what could or should be a public infrastructure : see Philippe Aigrain’s Creative Contribution for a good example of what could be done there