Netflix wants you to watch more Netflix. And to try to make that happen, the company is giving a long-overdue makeover to its TV app on some game consoles, smart TVs and streaming boxes.
On Wednesday, the streaming service will begin to look different for the millions of people around the world who stream it to their TVs using a PlayStation 3, the forthcoming PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and some Blu-ray players, smart TVs and Roku streaming boxes.
"This is about the interface of Netflix getting out of the way and allowing the user to connect with the movie or TV show," said Chris Jaffe, vice president of product innovation at Netflix.
The biggest changes will come to the main Netflix page. If you stream using a Roku 3, for example, the gray background will be replaced by a black one, and when you make a selection, three large images from the movie or TV show will rotate. You'll also see a shorter description of the show, along with additional information, such as why Netflix recommended the movie or TV show or whether it's won any awards. If you've connected your Netflix account to Facebook, it will show you what shows your friends have watched.
Before (Roku 3):
Netflix says it has also shortened loading time for titles, and it will no longer display a red Netflix screen during the loading process.
The changes won't go into effect for everyone, though. People who watch Netflix on a computer, phone or tablet, or stream it onto their TV using Apple TV, Nintendo Wii or Wii U, won't have the updated experience.
Netflix says that the majority of its members watch Netflix on a TV, but does not provide any specific figures. According to the NPD group, a market research firm, about 58 percent of Netflix titles are watched on a television. And of those who stream Netflix on a TV, 39 percent use a video game console, 19 percent use a streaming media box like an Apple TV or Roku, and 15 percent stream using a Blu-ray disk player, the firm found.
The point of the changes, of course, is to get you to watch more Netflix, and the company says the redesign works. As a test, it rolled out the redesign in April to hundreds of thousands of people who use PlayStation 3 to stream Netflix to their TV, and found that those people watched more Netflix titles. (The notoriously tight-lipped company wouldn't provide any details about the number of titles.)
The more Netflix you watch -- and the better the company is at recommending movies and TV shows you like -- the more valuable the service becomes, and the more likely you are to keep paying $7.99 a month for it.
Netflix is the market leader in streaming, but the company, like Hulu and Amazon, also is investing heavily in original content and exclusive streaming deals -- both to lure customers and retain the ones it already has.
Buzzfeed's Peter Lauria reported last month that Netflix continues to add subscribers, but it spends so much on content and international expansion that it doesn't actually make that much profit -- only $31.8 million last quarter on $1.1 billion in revenue. Its stock has soared this year, but some analysts are bearish and warn that it could tumble.
The streaming service is easy to quit, so Netflix must keep customers happy and attract new ones. And improving the user experience -- making it more visually appealing, faster, easier to navigate and adding features -- is certainly one way to do that.
"What we really want you to do," Jaffe said, "is turn on your TV and say, 'I get all of this for $7.99?' We want you to be wowed by that."