Netflix's New 'My List' Feature Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself (Because Algorithms)

08/21/2013 01:44 pm ET | Updated Aug 22, 2013
Getty

Netflix is throwing off one of the remaining vestiges of its DVD-by-mail business, Instant Queue, and replacing it with a solution that gives even more control to the algorithms that are increasingly driving its subscribers' experience.

The popular streaming service announced Wednesday that it is replacing Instant Queue with a feature called My List. While the move sounds like a cosmetic rebranding it signals Netflix's largely successful bet on using algorithms to help you figure out what to watch. The service is being rolled out Wednesday and will be available to all subscribers in two weeks.

Like Instant Queue, My List acts as the repository for films and TV episode you wish to watch in the future. When viewing details of a title, simply clicking “Add To My List” stores it for later viewing.

Unlike Instant Queue, My List exists as a row on Netflix's home screen (much like "Canadian Made-for-TV Movies" or "Cool Moustaches") in which the order of the titles is driven the company's advanced computer programs that specialize it getting viewers to stick around and watch program after program. Once you add enough titles to your personal list, Netflix will begin arranging them in the order it thinks you'll be most likely to view them. Picky viewers, who prefer to choose the order of their queues, will be able to manage it if they would like.

"In our tests, most members really appreciated this automated sorting and it was much more useful than the manual sorting capability of the Instant Queue," wrote on Netflix's blog.

Having subscribers manually choose the order of Instant Queue was essential for its original function: dictating which DVDs Netflix would mail out next. But in 2011, Netflix separated DVD-by-mail and streaming-video into two separate services (originally giving DVD-by-mail a whole different (terrible) name). Additionally, My List is rolling out internationally, whereas Instant Queue was only available in the U.S., since Netflix only ships DVDs domestically. Less than 8 million of Netflix's 29.8 million subscribers are foreign.

Throwing Netflix's movie-picking algorithm behind even the list of movies you pick yourself is in line with the increasingly sophisticated read it has on each subscriber. About 75 to 80 percent of everything watched on Netflix comes from its individually tailored recommendations, Netflix executive Todd Yellin recently told The Huffington Post. Netflix knows that titles given five-star ratings (think "Schindler's List") aren't necessarily what the average viewer wants to watch after a long day at work.

Similarly, Netflix is now confident that it knows what you would prefer to watch, even from a list of movies and TV shows that you've already said you want to watch. So if you've saved both "Schindler's List" and, say, "Futurama" to your list, Netflix knows: You're going to click on the raunchy sitcom, not the World War II drama, no matter how sophisticated you think your tastes are.

CONVERSATIONS