It’s a Friday night. You’re scrolling through Netflix, looking for something good to watch. Five minutes becomes 10 minutes, 10 minutes somehow becomes a half-hour, and you realize you’re so paralyzed by the cascade of movie choices in front of you that you end up asleep curled around a bottle of wine. It’s only 9 p.m.
It isn’t a secret that Netflix’s recommendation engine stinks; one can only watch so many “violent-horror thrillers with a strong female lead” or whatever its algorithms conjure up to approximate your exquisite movie tastes.
Netflix knows this, too. At Internet Week on Monday, the streaming service’s chief product officer, Neil Hunt, hinted at what the Netflix of the Future might look like. “Our vision is, you won’t see a grid and you won’t see a sea of titles,” said Hunt. It won’t be able to magically pick the perfect movie for you. But there is a “powerful possibility” that future versions will present viewers with just three or four manageable choices at a time.
Netflix did not say how it plans to surface high-quality (or high-quality-enough) television. But studies have shown that too many choices can be overwhelming: The same is true whether you’re shopping for paper towels, making a to-do list, or ordering a cheeseburger; it’s why In-N-Out keeps its public-facing menu intentionally oversimplified (to say nothing of its not-so-secret secret menu). Oftentimes, less is more.
Critics of Netflix have long panned the service’s catalog as bloated, and that its watchable shows and movies are swimming in a seemingly endless sea of flotsam. A few weeks ago, the company confirmed that it was raising prices for new members by a buck, so maybe with that influx of extra revenue, maybe soon you’ll spend less time sifting through the digital garbage barge to find a gem actually worth staying up for.