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You Can't Escape The Dumbest Thing About Netflix

The feature that drives me -- and probably you -- insane.
10/03/2018 12:27pm ET | Updated October 5, 2018

Netflix plans to spend around $13 billion on content alone over the course of 2018, but seems to have a budget of $0 for a mandatory feature that plagues subscribers every day.

Let me set the scene: You open Netflix. You see a beautiful layout with engaging photos organized in helpfully curated rows. The nearly endless possibilities for what to watch immediately becomes clear. You’re hopeful you’ll find something good in mere seconds. Then you hover your cursor over a Netflix Original for too long and the autoplay trailer starts. That might be incredibly annoying, but the trailer at least lets you know what the show or movie will be about.

After scrolling for awhile, though, you happen upon a show or movie that’s not a Netflix Original. The autoplay starts and you’re transported straight into the depths of hell. For an inexplicable reason, the most soul-destroying stock music plays over nonsensical scenes from the show or movie you’re considering watching. You just want to watch a trailer for “The Breakfast Club” or “Great News,” but instead Netflix forces atrocious Muzak into your ears.

A particularly irritating, but funny example of this: find old music documentaries and see what stock music Netflix thinks kind-of-sort-of sounds fitting.

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What's spurring laughter among "The Breakfast Club" actors? I don't know, because terrible music plays over this clip instead of dialogue.

You can run, but you can’t hide from this sonic disaster because Netflix doesn’t allow you to turn off the autoplaying trailers feature. Apparently the company has “data” that subscribers like this autoplay feature, despite countless think-pieces declaring otherwise.

As such, the war on autoplay as a feature seems to be lost. But maybe Netflix can still be persuaded to lose the bone-chilling stock music?

To the company’s credit, Netflix has added less infuriating previews to many popular shows and movies that aren’t Originals. The autoplay preview for a show like “Friends” has an actual clip from the show with audible dialogue. Occasionally, a movie will have what looks like a custom trailer for the service. Either of these types of previews seems acceptable to me.

Not acceptable: music that sounds like Netflix created it with Microsoft’s ill-fated music creator “Songsmith.” For those who haven’t gone down the Songsmith rabbit hole before, here’s the actual advertisement Microsoft used for the product:

This use of stock music in the autoplay trailers ultimately relates to another issue Netflix and its competitors have dealt with in the streaming era.

Licensing music can be both incredibly expensive and convoluted. Before streaming existed, shows that aired on traditional networks didn’t really know or care to acquire a broad license for the songs used to accompany scenes. This means that when some of these shows join streaming services decades later, the original music has to be switched to something else entirely.

Netflix’s addition of “The Wonder Years” had a particularly egregious example of this. That show famously used a cover version of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends,” sung by Joe Cocker, as its theme song. When Netflix briefly had the show on the service, the theme song turned into yet another cover of the tune, but sung by anonymous musician trying to imitate Cocker.

You can listen to that abomination here:

So the tricky nature of licensing music means it’s not exactly easy for Netflix to drop the stock music if it insists on having autoplay trailers with sound.

Using the theatrical trailers would become extremely expensive given that those typically get paired with music integral to the presentation of the teaser scenes. And then Netflix has thousands of titles on the service in the U.S. alone. Although the company has created custom mini-trailers for big titles, that seems like a gargantuan task to demand for every single show and movie.

Yes, I don’t have the perfect solution, but I do know Netflix has a problem here. And for a company that prides itself on pumping billions of dollars into creating the best streaming subscription service, it remains baffling that Netflix would allow these terrible stock songs to define so much of its overall product.

I can’t imagine anybody will ever unsubscribe just because of a hatred for Muzak. And maybe [conspiratorial tone] the company actually gives the non-Original content bad trailers to train you to watch Netflix Original content instead. Even if it’s not intentional, it likely does have that effect, regardless. I know I click away fast whenever the stock music starts.

But someday, my tolerance might finally be up. The imitation George Harrison music will start up, my soul will die a little and I’ll simply click away entirely. Or at least, I’ll stay away until “BoJack Horseman” comes back. And the countless other great shows.

OK, I’m not quitting Netflix. I can still dream of a better world though ― a world where I can browse Netflix without an aural catastrophe.

Ji Sub Jeong/HP

Streamline makes recommendations for streaming shows and movies. Every Saturday, Streamline highlights the best shows to watch online, with a focus on Netflix.

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