Netflix ‘Shuffle Play’ Is Like TV Without the Ads

Key Takeaways

  • Netflix will roll out shuffle play in the first half of 2021.
  • Shuffle play will use your watching history to pick shows you might like.
  • You may never argue about what to watch ever again.
Someone watching Netflix on a tablet.
@sitthiphong via Twenty20

Netflix will add shuffle play to its video streaming service some time before summer. Just like the shuffle feature that rocketed the iPod to stardom, Netflix’s shuffle lets you press a button, and sit back. 

Speaking to Variety, Greg Peters, the company's chief operating officer and chief product officer, said the feature will be perfect for viewers who don’t want to choose a show or movie to watch, instead preferring to just switch on and watch whatever shows up. You know—just like TV used to be. Is this a genius idea, or as ridiculous as the Bluetooth light switch that you stick to the wall to control your smart lightbulbs?

"Our members can basically indicate to us that they just want to skip browsing entirely, click one button, and we’ll pick a title for them just to instantly play," said Peters in an investor call last week. "They’re not really sure what they want to watch."

Shuffle Play

Netflix has been testing shuffle play since last summer. Users just have to hit a button that says either "Shuffle Play" or "Play Something" (according to Variety, the labels are not yet fixed in the test versions). Then it will pick something that it hopes you’ll like, based on your previous viewing habits. 

"It’s the internet-era equivalent of switching on the TV and ignoring it."

The idea is that you may end up seeing a new show that you like, and then keep watching it. And that means you’re more likely to keep paying for Netflix every month. It seems like a great idea. But then, there have been plenty of other "great" ideas over the years.

Faster Playback

Some people like to speed up podcasts and audiobooks when they listen. This feature increases the playback speed (typically anywhere up to two times), but doesn’t make the voices high-pitched and squeaky.

The advantage, I presume, is that you can "consume" more content in the same time span. This makes sense when you need to get through a recorded meeting or similar obligation, but if a podcast or book is so dull that you can’t bear to listen to it at normal speed, why even bother?

Incredibly, Netflix lets you do the same thing for movies and TV shows. You can slow the action down to half speed, or increase the speed up to 1.5 times. But again, why?

Is it just so that you can avoid FOMO? So you can say you watched a show or a movie, even if you hate it so much that people scurrying around the sets on fast-forward don’t seem ridiculous to you?

I asked Twitter if anyone used this feature. "I don’t," replied software developer Agneev Mukherjee. "It makes for a terrible viewing experience."

What must David Lynch think of this? He thinks that viewers are being “cheated” just by watching a movie on a cellphone (NSFW, at the end).

Take Quibi

Or what about Quibi, the media-streaming company that spent $1 billion on over 175 shows, and yet was so ill-conceived that it shut down after just six months? Quibi saw the success of TikTok, the popularity of Instagram Stories, and the ubiquity of short videos on Facebook and Twitter, and decided to add some professional Hollywood gloss. It split shows into 10-minute-long "quick bites." 

In total, Quibi’s investors wasted $1.8 billion on professionally produced snippets that nobody wanted to watch, because we’re happy watching short amateur clips. Perhaps Quibi should have invested in speeding up classic movies so they could fit into 10-minute slots?

A Good Idea

Netflix’s shuffle play, though, looks like a pretty good idea. It’s the internet-era equivalent of switching on the TV and ignoring it. And unlike actual TV, you don’t have to suffer through ads breaking in every few minutes, and Netflix will at least try to show you something it thinks you’ll like, instead of just re-running '90s sitcoms. Forever. 

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