Netflix puts one final (symbolic) nail in Blockbuster’s coffin: Peter Nowak

By upgrading the look of its interface, Netflix is nuking the last remnants of the video store era


The gods of heavy-handed symbolism are working overtime this week. On Monday, failed video store chain Blockbuster announced that the final movie rented in its stores was This Is The End, this past summer’s apocalyptic stoner comedy. What a fitting end to the chain’s long run, which is closing its last remaining stores.

Yet, as if that wasn’t enough, Netflix – the company largely responsible for Blockbuster’s death – is today rolling out a new redesign of its video streaming service that effectively kills off the last vestiges of the old rental store.

The new interface, seen above, is much slicker, unified and more intuitive than the rather sparse and different experiences Netflix had been delivering on different devices. Individual titles now have a series of still photos attached to them that rotate along the top of the screen, while recommendations and synopses are clearer and more concise.

The interface can also run on low-powered devices such as the Roku. When I met with chief product officer Neil Hunt a few weeks ago,  he said this was key to Netflix’s desire to have the same, unified experience across devices. As it stands, the service looks very different on, say, the PlayStation 3 than it does on Apple TV.

The company will be better able to innovate with its interface and service if it can clean up that fragmentation, Hunt said.

Here’s a video explaining the changes, which Netflix is calling the biggest and most important in its history:

I couldn’t help but fixate on a quick, throw-away comment Hunt made while explaining the new interface. The astute observer will notice from the photo above and the video that title images are now horizontal rather than vertical, as they’ve always been on Netflix. That verticality, Hunt explained, was one of the “last remnants” of the video store era, where movies sat on shelves in vertical boxes.

TVs are, of course, horizontally-oriented devices so it no longer makes sense – if it ever did – to continue displaying titles in a vertical format. By shifting to these horizontal listings, Netflix is indeed nuking the last remnants of the video store. Talk about poetic timing.