Simone Brunozzi

Nov 17, 2018

2 min read

Netflix and the illusion of an infinite movie shelf

The story is very simple: Netflix wants you to think that EVERY time you want to watch something interesting, they have it for you. For just $13.99 a month.

The reality is that Netflix wants to do that with the least amount of money possible, which means: “renting” or buying licenses for movies only when these movies are cheap enough.
It doesn’t do it for you. There’s no “Artificial Intelligence” trying to give you the best suggestions based on your taste. Netflix’s carousel is there to give you the illusion of an infinite movie shelf.

In the past 10 months or so, every single time (except one) I looked for a specific movie to watch — usually at least 3, 4 years old — I never found it there. Few minutes ago I looked for Moneyball, and of course it’s not available there.
Why? I suppose that buying the right to show Moneyball on Netflix is too expensive, compared to what they usually want to spend in order to populate their digital shelf.

In addition to that, Netflix knows that TV series represent the best “bang for the buck”, in other words they “produce” more audience per dollar spent. They also allow for faster, cheaper “experiment” to test whether a certain story or concept might have a big audience or not. (a pilot costs much less than a movie, and takes only a few months from idea to launch).
As a result, Netflix has heavily invested in TV shows in the past few years.

TV Shows vs Movies on Netflix, 2010 compared to 2018

Netflix is a great service. But it’s giving us a DISservice. It doesn’t let us choose what we want to watch. It trains us to think that they know better, by giving us the “Illusion of an infinite movie shelf”.

It’s a great business. It’s a business that I am starting to dislike a lot.

If you think about it, Amazon.com does the same for the products it sells.

But let’s not talk about Amazon.com. I want to leave you with a parting thought: what happens when the market leader of a certain category (Netflix, Amazon) start to lose the “love” of their customers? Sometimes, nothing. Sometimes, there’s a BIG incentive for someone else to fill that gap.

Update: I just found this video by Harward law student Pete Davis commenting on Netflix and life. I had to share it here.

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