Netflix revamps TV interface for PS3, Roku boxes, Xbox 360, smart TVs

TORONTO – Netflix has freshened up its user interface to access the streaming service on a TV, which is first being made available for the PS3, Roku boxes, the Xbox 360 and a number of Blu-ray players and smart TVs.

Like all of Netflix’s major changes, a lot of testing and refining went into the new feature before it was cleared to be rolled out.

In this case, although it’s a relatively minor refresh to how users select films or TV shows to watch, it took a year to implement.

The top half of the screen will now be devoted to highlighting just one title, with a short description and a rotating set of images from the film or TV show.

“It’s designed to appeal and capture your interest much more quickly and help you decide if it’s something that’s appropriate for you or not in a couple of seconds,” said Neil Hunt, Netflix’s chief product officer.

Surprisingly, those images were manually chosen for each and every title in Netflix’s library.

“What we’ve done is we’ve built a tool that runs through and picks out some interesting moments where there’s a sharp scene and then we have our team of content experts — the guys who write the synopsis, who tag the content according to whether it’s gritty or whether it features a strong female lead — they’re now also selecting out of a handful of candidates the two or three graphics that pair up,” said Hunt.

“We’ve spent a fair amount of time on it, we’ve been at this for about a year. Picking the graphics is just one piece of that, there’s a lot that goes into making this stuff happen.”

A few different designs were floated in front of hundreds of thousands of test subjects, including a subset of Canadian users. Hunt said Netflix has come to value the feedback it gets from testers in Canada. He called Canadians “the most satisfied customers of all of our customers around the world.”

“We measure and evaluate the likelihood to recommend, likelihood to continue, satisfaction with the product, and Canadians are up at the top of the scale,” Hunt said.

“I think it’s partly because we have a great compelling product that’s unlike anything else available (in Canada). And it’s partly because we’ve been in Canada longer than any other country except for the U.S. and I think that’s helped us to refine and optimize the way it suits Canadian customers.”

The new interface won’t necessarily help users find something to watch faster, Hunt said, although he’s not sure that’s a metric worth focusing on.

“We do (track how long it takes for users to click) but I’m not sure whether that should be long or short. We’ve had lots of debates about that,” Hunt said.

“While we measure ‘time to first play’ and we measure things like ‘sessions without play,’ it’s not completely clear to me what the right answer is. Watching more hours a month is clearly a win and retention signifies that we’ve delivered a more valuable product … so that’s clearly a win too. So those tend to be the metrics we care about.”