But in recent months the company seems to be trying its best to alienate all but the most indifferent of customers. Continuing its trend of deemphasizing classic content for new and original programming, it not only axed over a thousand titles last month, but added insult to injury by giving little or no warning beforehand. It's now considering dropping expiration notices altogether. Given that the original purpose of this blog was to highlight more obscure and classic titles while providing a heads-up on when those (and other) titles were leaving, this effectively constitutes a double whammy.
New isn't always betterThen there was the recent website redesign, which was lauded as adding a fresh new look that makes it easier to view basic info for each title without leaving the main screen. Except, for those of us who want more than basic info, we now have to click through three partial screens instead of finding everything (overview, details, comments) on one. We're also now missing any on-screen expiration dates as well as the ability to copy and paste a title for further researching on the web.
Meanwhile, the interface for streaming players (in my case, the Roku Stick) gets more problematic with each new update. Originally you were able to see at a glance the number of items in a row and where you stood within it—an important point of reference when scrolling forward or back, especially in your queue. You could also see the total number of episodes in a TV show's season, which made for a handy indicator before committing to a new series; and once you selected a show, you could see immediately how long the upcoming episode was—great to know when starting a double-length pilot or special extended episode. But now, finding an episode's length takes an extra click, while there's no way at all to see the total episode count without scrolling through each season and adding them up yourself.
The perils of post-playBut that's not the worst part. My own particular bête noire has been that heinous "feature" known as post-play. You may be familiar with it: As a movie or TV show's end credits roll, the image suddenly shrinks and is thrust to the top left of your screen—"conveniently" giving you further options to stream. For those of us who would like to read the credits ("Who was that guest star?" "What was that song?") or who simply enjoy staring at the screen and absorbing what we just watched, the only way to get the credits back is to reach frantically for the remote and click the Up arrow two or three times (it's different each time) and reselect the playing screen.
This is not only a royal pain in the butt, it's extremely disruptive to the viewing experience—yanking you out of the mood with a tiny burst of adrenaline (and, in my case, anger). Worse, I've become so used to grabbing the remote in preparation for the dreaded end-credits-shrinkage, I now get the same Pavlovian urge while in a movie theater. So, thanks, Netflix, for ruining my theater experience, too.
And now there's an even newer wrinkle in the deteriorating streaming experience, one that's been rolling out to set-top players in the last two weeks. This particular brand of (cough) improvement involves starting a show or movie immediately upon selecting it—as opposed to letting you see the info screen first and possibly scrolling through other options. At the very least you might want to see the cast or director. But, no. "You don't need to see all that junk," sayeth Netflix. "Let us just go ahead and start the movie for you, so you don't need to worry about pushing an extra button, you poor immobile little blob!"
Which is ironic considering all the extra button-pushes we're forced to tolerate when the movie ends and we want to watch the credits. Doubly ironic: there was already a single-button play feature available (at least on the Roku)—the Play/Pause button. All you have to do is scroll to your title, hit that button, and voila!, the movie starts right up. No all-knowing overlords required.
Why can't "choice" be a feature?The most frustrating aspect to all this is not that these features have been introduced, but that they've been forced on us with no way to deactivate them. It was a godsend a few years back when Netflix granted us the ability to turn off autoplay (that's when one TV episode ends and the next starts a 10-second countdown). I turned mine off immediately. But despite repeated requests by myself and others, the company refuses to give us the option to turn off post-play—and I see no way to neutralize the new "pre-play" function, either.
Instead we're forcibly rushed into starting a program, then rushed into ending it afterwards. There's no allowance for individual viewer preference. Why the big rush, Netflix? You had us at "Subscribe," after all. Are you afraid we won't watch anything else if you don't force it down our throats? Or that we're too stupid or lazy to make decisions for ourselves before or after watching something?
On top of how annoying and frustrating this is, it's also damn insulting. And it's discouraging me from watching things on Netflix, to the point where I'm spending more time in the less controlling environs of Amazon Prime and even (horrors) the ad-ridden world of Hulu. For all its sins, at least Hulu lets you start and stop its programs unmolested.
Yes, there's still a lot of great content on Netflix I want to see, even if increasingly less of it is the classic films and series I like to promote. But the more the company forces me to watch its content the way they want me to, the more I'm going to resist it and seek out alternatives. (My DVD collection grows more appealing by the day.)
Whither WoNN?I'm also, frankly, feeling much less inspired to continue this blog. I've already talked about no longer wanting to spend my time managing the (mostly unmanageable) lists of new and expiring titles. But now I'm considering letting this whole enterprise rest for a while—at least until I see some improvement in Netflix's user interface or feel inspired to recommend something too good to ignore. The service is getting further and further from the one I set out to champion, and with its emphasis on original content—and its all-pervasive marketing machine—the company doesn't need me to trumpet whatever non-original titles are left.
I realize a lot of you have come to depend on this site for up-to-date info, but I truly believe there are better sites for providing that kind of raw data (Instantwatcher and New On Netflix USA among them). For me, it's always been about curating, not comprehensive listing, so if anything I'd like to return to that model and scale things back to a more personalized approach—assuming I can get the current bad taste out of my mouth.
What do you all think? Has watching Netflix become as frustrating for you as it has for me? Am I overreacting? Feel free to sound off in the comments below. Meanwhile, expect a slightly different look to this blog in the coming days...