Much as I try to keep this blog from turning me into a nerd version of Andy Rooney, sometimes I hit on a seemingly meaningless question that makes sense to me but that I can’t conceive of not having been routinely asked and answered already. At this moment: Why doesn’t Netflix have a version of “shuffle mode?”
Here’s what I mean: I won’t say that I’m not a binge-watcher of things, I am. But what keeps me from using Netflix (or, frankly, most other large-variety streaming services) as much as I think I otherwise would is that I don’t always want to watch a pre-planned or immediately-desired set of programming. The fact is, having spent most of my TV-watching life in the pre-2012-or-so era, I like to have the damn thing running as the background noise of my home and I find a certain amount of genuine enjoyment in the “Oh! [thing] is on, cool!” mode of realizing something has appeared onscreen.
Now, I understand that Netflix is just a bit too vast and modern tastes much too specialized for the full “channel surfing” experience to be fully implemented, especially since it would be both pointless and impossible to fix in the kind of regional/national/time-of-day programming decisions that go into traditional television scheduling. But the more I think on it, the more it feels like the ideal happy medium between the current streaming model of “watch whatever you want – BUT you have to make that decision all over again once ever 30-60 minutes” and the old “let’s just leave USA on and see what happens next” chill-out version.
I’ll admit upfront I’m not versed in the various programming algorithms that are used to set up things like recommendations currently, but would it be especially difficult to have an optional “mode” on your Netflix account that let’s you say “Here is a selection of TV series, movies, etc that I like – play through them at random?” Ideally, there would also be “fine-tuning” options i.e. “only TV” or “only movies,” “no same-series in a row,” “autoplay two-part episodes/sequels” …hell, I imagine it might not even be THAT hard to program a version that doesn’t work from a “playlist” but instead works from the entire library based on genre/subject/star/content/era preferences (sliders, maybe?) My understanding is that Hulu already offers a version of this, but to be honest I’ve thus far never had cause to use Hulu enough to find out.
To my mind, not only does this make sense as a thing to have just as an option; I could see that second version becoming (at least for a few months at first) the kind of social-media “cultural event” thing – “OMG! How had I never seen [Movie] before!? #NetflixDiscovery!” “Show us your best #NetflixDiscovery finds!” – that Netflix eats up for P.R. It also likely wouldn’t be difficult to show some (advertised upfront) favoritism to the company’s self-produced Originals content, i.e. making sure an episode of DAREDEVIL pops up here and there in the rotations of users who heavily stream action/superhero content or the ONE DAY AT A TIME revival (which is really good, incidentally) for folks who stream a lot of sitcoms.
So… why isn’t this a thing? The only reason not to have it that’s coming to mind is that a big part of Netflix “industry leverage” is as a data-collection hub re: viewing demos/habits and this might be harder to collect from in that regard, but surely there are ways around that. Is there something I’m missing?