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Any Netflix developers here?

C'mon, give us the inside scoop.  Today I (and many others) got a BS-heavy e-mail about how profiles (multiple queues on one account) are going away in September.  "While it may be disappointing to see this feature go away, this change will help us to continue to improve the Netflix website for all our customers."

I had two theories on this:

1)  People living near each other, college students in the same dorm, whatever, are sharing accounts through profiles, and Netflix is stopping it because they want them to have separate accounts (and spend more money).

2)  Netflix just plain wants more money from individual households; so now, if I want a separate queue for my three-year-old, I have to buy him his own account (and spend more money).

But the customer service rep I just talked to insists that Netflix is quite profitable, and that neither of these is the case.  She gave the impression that there's some *technical* reason, that somehow profiles aren't compatible with upcoming (and unspecified) Great New Features.  But she had no idea about either the new features or the technical impediments.

So...any Netflixers here who can give us a picture about what's going on?  I'm very curious about what sort of technical issue could cause a decision like this.
Kyralessa Send private email
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
 
 
It's because surprisingly few people actually use it, and it totally screws with the recommendation engine.  Or so I've been told.
curious yellow
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
 
 
On a Netflix discussion board the word from Netflix is that profiles are only used by 1% of their customers, but since every account *has* profiles, the queries are a significant load on the servers. Get rid of profiles = simplify queries, development, bug fixing, and maintenance.

I suspect the business analysis Netflix did was:
1) Roommates sharing accounts. If Netflix is seeing a lot of use at colleges, then any address with profiles is a potential loss of revenue. While families might not get individual accounts for family members, roommates will.
2) If the 1% that use profiles get pissed and leave, it's a net gain for Netflix. Because these are the heavy users - the folks that are rating movies, entering comments, and cycling through DVD's as fast as the mail will allow. If 1% of your customers could accounted for 10% of your expenses, wouldn't you look for a subtle way to get rid of them?

The problem they're going to run into is a "latent feature" problem - while perhaps only 1% of customers *use* profiles, there are probably a significant number that are aware of the feature and feel relaxed that it's there (either they plan to use it at some point, or at least they know they can). So while ditching profiles may only "inconvenience" 1% of their customers, it may piss off 20% or more.
Philo [MSFT]
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
Only 1% use profiles?  It must just not be marketed enough.  This is such a key feature to me that if Blockbuster sent me an email now saying they allow profiles I'd consider switching.  If Netflix had an API this would be a cool 3rd party feature to add, something that manages one queue into profiles.
Phil Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
I put my Netflix on hold a couple months ago and have only been using BlockBuster.  (I used to have both for a while)  The turnaround is the same, plus I get a free in-store game or movie and every in-store return is also a free rental.  A queue for my wife was a great thing we used, but I'd already decided to leave anyway.
Cade Roux Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
> "Only 1% use profiles?  It must just not be marketed
> enough.  This is such a key feature to me that if
> Blockbuster sent me an email now saying they allow
> profiles I'd consider switching.  If Netflix had an
> API this would be a cool 3rd party feature to add,
> something that manages one queue into profiles."

I've been considering putting something together for my own families' use that does this via screen scraping behind the scenes.  The problem I've found is that the netflix site is complex, with a lot of ajax and frequent changes, so the scraping will be difficult.

Do we have enough interest here to maybe put an open source project up on sourceforge?  As much as I hate to do Netflix' job for them, we really use this feature a lot.
Joel Coehoorn Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
Well, currently their pricing biases to the fewer DVDs at a time, so they probably felt that it wasn't an issue price-wise, and thus a purely technical change.  I.e. 2 accounts at 3 DVDs/time is cheaper than 1 account at 6 DVDs/time, as I understand it.
Rohan
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
i'd be interested. with 2 young children, having their own queue separate from the parents is a really nice feature.
please don't delete
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
>> I put my Netflix on hold a couple months ago and have only been using BlockBuster.  (I used to have both for a while)  The turnaround is the same, plus I get a free in-store game or movie and every in-store return is also a free rental.  A queue for my wife was a great thing we used, but I'd already decided to leave anyway.

I read an interesting article a while ago saying that Blockbuster was screwed because so many people have been on the receiving end of their punitive fees for rental overruns in the past. That chimed with me ... I'd rather support Netflix than BB
David Aldridge Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
I suspect there was a business case around their throttling.  I was using the profiles feature to implement a way around it.

It really bothers me when I'm watching a series.  It really sucks to finish up disk 5, then get throttled.  Instead of shipping disk 6, it suddenly becomes marked 'short wait' and they ship the next movie on your queue.  Lets say, Children of Men which, while it is a good movie, is tough to get into the mood for it.  By the time I get around to sending a movie back, I've lost the plot of the series.

I'd much rather have waited for disk 6, thankyouverymuch.  But without clearing out my whole queue, I'm unable to do that.  By having an extra profile with only a single movie in its queue, you can enforce 'wait for movie'.

I'm going to really miss this feature.  I might have to scrape my list to local storage and empty out my queue just so I can have this 'feature' back.
Michael Dwyer Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
Damn, I never knew about this feature before, but now I wish I used it!
Matt B Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
After reading a fair bit on this topic today (on other sites), I'm beginning to suspect a third theory:

3)  Netflix has done an analysis and determined that the users who use the Profiles feature are also some of the users who happen to be the least profitable (i.e. they watch the most movies).  Eliminating Profiles will tick off those customers so that they'll quit the service, thus improving Netflix's profitability.
Kyralessa Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
Joel Coehoorn:
"I've been considering putting something together for my own families' use that does this via screen scraping behind the scenes."

If netflix gets rid of profiles, you can absolutely bet that someone will stitch together a greasemonkey script that accomplishes the same thing.
BenjiSmith Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
"After reading a fair bit on this topic today"

This kind of micromanagement is borderline compulsive, don't you think? I load up my Netflix queue with movies and then forget about it til it's empty again. It's like a little Christmas surprise to me when I get that next DVD in the mail.
Financial Programmer
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
Kyralessa - isn't your #3 = my #2 earlier? :)
Philo [MSFT]
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
+1 for "I didn't even know about this very cool feature"
Mr. Analogy Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
It's not about micromanagement, it's about keeping everyone happy.  My wife has her queue and I have mine.  Used to do it with roommates in the past, it's quite nice!
Phil Send private email
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
This is my last straw.

I'm mad about this. Bye, Netflix. I really liked the profile feature.

Kept peace in my house.
anonymous female
Thursday, June 19, 2008
 
 
Er...well, yeah, I guess it is.  Sorry, I skim way too much.
Kyralessa Send private email
Friday, June 20, 2008
 
 
And then there's reason #4, which may explain this better than any of the others:

4)  Netflix found that somebody else has a patent on a "Profiles" feature exactly like the one they use, so they had to either get rid of it quickly or start coughing up; and that's why they made an announcement like this so abruptly without even a backup plan in place.  (It may also serve as pressure on the patent holder: "Make your terms more reasonable, or you won't get *any* money because we'll just drop the feature instead.")
Kyralessa Send private email
Friday, June 20, 2008
 
 
"I load up my Netflix queue with movies and then forget about it til it's empty again. It's like a little Christmas surprise to me when I get that next DVD in the mail."

Which is great until your daughter is having a sleepover for her eigth birthday. They've got the popcorn and sleeping bags, and you rip open your little red surprise to see ... Kill Bill, Vol.2. Yeah, merry damn Christmas to me.

===

re: The queries are bad. If profiles are implemented as the atomic unit, with multiple profiles joined through a "billing" table, the queries are fine. If they implemented them by adding a column to their "customer" table, this is a problem of their own making.

===

But I like Kyralessa's #4. Sounds very plausible.
Drew Kime Send private email
Monday, June 23, 2008
 
 

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