3 takeaways from Netflix’s new TV user interface

Netflix just updated its TV user interface. (Netflix)

Good news for the vast majority of Netflix users who binge watch on connected TVs: The company on Wednesday slapped a fresh coat of paint on its television user interface.

Stephen Garcia, director of product innovation at Netflix, said that the new interface is meant to ease the browsing process on devices that don’t have the benefit of touchscreens.

“The new interface was based on rigorous research and testing around how we can make it easier to find titles on TVs, where navigation can feel a bit tougher when you are restricted to just a few buttons on a remote control,” Garcia wrote in a blog post.

Here are a few key takeaways from the redesign.

It’s an improvement, both visually and functionally

The big addition within Netflix’s new TV UI is a sidebar menu that’s colored in with a transparent gray. While it doesn’t provide the same respite from auto-playing trailers as the swipe up/click up menu on platforms like Apple TV and Roku, it does make better use of the available space on the screen. And it provides quick access to Search, Home, Series, Movies, My List and New.

“The new TV interface was designed to make the Netflix experience simpler and more intuitive in a few different ways,” wrote Garcia. “In our testing of this new interface, we saw that that this simpler design helped members find something great to watch.”

It could solve a pain point

Netflix has aspired to save its users time by cutting down on the amount of browsing needed to find something to watch, which is a documented problem. In 2016, Reelgood and Learndipity Data Insights released a study revealing that Netflix users spend on average 18 minutes per day looking for something to watch. That’s time that could be spent watching “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

Garcia said that one way Netflix sought to address the issue is by making separate tabs for shows and movies on the sidebar.

“Our research has shown us that while a member generally isn’t sure what exact title they want to watch, they have a pretty good sense of whether they are in the mood for a quick series episode or a longer movie experience,” Garcia wrote.

Netflix also made it easier to get to what’s new on the service and to access My List, all of which should help users get out of browsing and into watching in less time.

It could help fend off competition

Netflix still reigns as the undisputed champ of subscription streaming in the U.S. and a lot of other places in the world. But the company admittedly checked in with a “strong but not stellar” second quarter, in which it missed its subscriber forecast by more than 1 million.

As it often does, Netflix in its letter to shareholders (PDF) talked about the competition it’s facing in the marketplace, including Apple, Amazon, HBO and YouTube.

“We anticipate more competition from the combined AT&T/Warner Media, from the combined Fox/Disney or Fox/Comcast as well as from international players like Germany’s ProSieben and Salto in France,” wrote Netflix. “Our strategy is to simply keep improving, as we’ve been doing every year in the past.”

A refreshed TV UI is certainly a sign of improvement and a clear indication that not all of Netflix’s budget is going toward content. Much has been made of Netflix’s planned $8 billion content budget for 2018, but the company has also earmarked $1.3 billion for development this year. The new user interface, along with other updates like the recently added Smart Downloads for mobile, show that Netflix is more than just a content machine and will likely push competitors (Amazon, are you listening?) to revamp their own TV interfaces.

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