Netflix aims to reel you in with custom previews

Browsing through Netflix's humongous catalog on your TV may have just gotten a little easier.

Aloysius Low Senior Editor
Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.
Aloysius Low
3 min read

Your Netflix television experience is getting an upgrade.

The streaming provider is rolling out a global update to its TV interface, designed to let you instantly preview 15- to 30-second clips of shows as you browse its vast catalog. The new look comes just a week after Netflix unveiled an update that will let you download shows to phones and tablets.

The changes are all about convenience for busy consumers in a world with a dizzying array of entertainment options and online distractions.

"What we are trying to do is live within your attention budget and find you something great to watch in that budget," said Chris Jaffe, Netflix's vice president of product innovation, in an interview with CNET.

Netflix also has to live in an intense competitive landscape with rivals intent on pulling in viewers and building loyalty among them. Amazon, like Netflix, has been pouring money into original shows and movies for the video service that comes with its Prime memberships. Then there are the companies providing live TV over the internet, ranging from Sling TV to PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now.

The new Netflix rollout will head to gaming consoles like the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One as well as Roku boxes starting Tuesday, before making its way to smart TVs and other devices in the next few weeks.

Every show in Netflix's catalog will feature a video preview that's been manually curated to intrigue viewers. Instead of showing a specific clip from the show or movie, the video is designed as a mini reveal to introduce the story and characters.

It's not the first time Netflix's TV interface has shown video previews. The streaming service has been using the top half of its user interface for trailers, hiding it when people start to browse through its catalog. Now it will retain the space for video previews.

For those worried about higher bandwidth consumption, beware that Netflix says the feature can't be turned off. However, the preview system also uses the same adaptive streaming technology as Netflix's usual videos, which increases the resolution of the video as it plays, so that could help.

In addition, the change means users will have fewer rows to browse through compared to the old design, but that could be helpful in deciding what to watch.

The TV interface is designed to be different from Netflix's web layout, said Jaffe. Unlike watching Netflix on the computer with a mouse that can move anywhere on screen, TVs and TV boxes usually only have four directional buttons to work with. "TV has an enormous amount of constraints, because you can only go left, right, up, down," he added. "It's actually one of the hardest platforms to design for."

Netflix aimed to design its experiences so features are appropriate for specific devices. "If we put a TV UI on a website, that would drive people crazy," Jaffe said. "If we put a website UI on a TV, it would drive people nuts."

Correction, 6:10 a.m. PT: An earlier version of this story misstated an aspect of user control over the video preview. The new video preview cannot be turned off.