An About-Face at Netflix

Posted by: Jena McGregor on June 30, 2008

Netflix will not be eliminating its “profiles” service after all, an email in my inbox just informed me. In the process, it just saved thousands of DVD-watching marriages nationwide.

For those who aren’t users of the popular DVD-by-mail service, the profiles feature lets Netflix watchers make separate “queues,” or movie lists, on one account. As a result, chick-flick romances and action-cult horror movies arrive in equal quantities to one DVD-viewing household. One movie is sent from one list, a second movie is sent from the other, and only when each film is returned will another be sent from the corresponding list. In households with particularly divergent movie tastes, the feature kept either DVD fan from front-loading the top of the movie queue with futuristic apocalyptic movies you couldn’t care less about. (Ahem.)

Then on June 18, a terse email arrived to its members: “We wanted to let you know we will be eliminating Profiles, the feature that allowed you to set up separate DVD Queues under one account, effective September 1, 2008,” the email said. The only explanation: “While it may be disappointing to see Profiles go away, this change will help us continue to improve the Netflix website for all our customers.”

Tensions rose in living rooms across the country. And the blogosphere erupted: “I currently have out Trial at Nuremberg, while at the same time my girlfriend has out Carmen Electra’s Aerobic Striptease,” wrote one blogger. “See Netflix, this is WIN WIN!” On Netflix’s corporate blog, more than 1200 comments were posted, many voicing their dismay and intentions to leave the service.

Then comes today’s email: “You spoke, and we listened. We are keeping Profiles. Thank you for all the calls and emails telling us how important Profiles are.”

While you have to give them credit for responding, one has to wonder how the decision was made in the first place. Did the profiles feature cost Netflix anything? Did people who didn’t use it suffer because others did? Product manager Todd says on the Netflix blog that the feature was used by the “passionate few” and seems to have “distracted” the company from its “mission of presenting to all our members the easiest way to find the best titles for them.”

But that rationale doesn’t make much sense to me. Seems like their mission, especially at a time when iTunes is offering downloadable movies, should be hanging on to loyal customers who are so engaged with the service that they use some of its special features. Lesson learned: If you decide to take away a service, don’t remove one that’s readily used by your most passionate customers. And if you do, have a replacement—or the willingness to change your mind.

Reader Comments

Matt

July 1, 2008 11:19 AM

Hmmm ... I just joined and I have no access to 'profiles.' Looks like they phased it out for Netflix newbies.

David

July 1, 2008 1:20 PM

Matt,

The service will be enabled for new customers shortly. See the blog post linked above.

Raghu Srinivasan

July 1, 2008 1:26 PM

I am a member of a few Netflix communities and run FeedFlix.com which is a free site for Netflixers and saw the reaction to this myself.

I think NF did not realize that while the percentage of users that use the Profiles features is small compared to their entire user base, that small fraction swears by it and would be very severely impacted by losing it.

Good on Netflix to have listened and reacted so soon!

Richard

July 1, 2008 3:36 PM

From what I understand, adding profiles creates a level of complexity that makes it difficult to add new features to the system. Any changes must consider each profile and testing must be increased to consider the affects of profiles. Looks like they did not design profiles well and the usage did not justify the added costs.

But, I found the feature irreplacible and would be truly upset to lose the ability to keep separate profiles. I know my wife and kids don't have my tastes and if I forget to updat the list, they blame me for loading the list.

Looks like Netflix has grown a tree in the living room and will have to live with it. Cutting it down could ruin the very foundation they built, customer loyalty. I do hope they find a way to make profiles work better for them as they are a great service. I don't want to see Blockbuster moving back in as the main player. They were horrible.

Matthew Carter

July 1, 2008 3:53 PM

I do NOT use NetFlix, however I am or have been THINKING about, I just don't watch THAT MANY moives, but I DO like the concept / service, however I don't know all the details.
I do I.T. so I am a LITTLE in touch with some technology. I don't per say work on Internet systems but I do KNOW that you can get information on EVERYTHING / ANYTHING if you put the right information in and I am sure that they COULD have looked at these Profiles and seen who used them, when, by what demographic, etc. If they CARED / researched it, they may have found that WOW 10% of the users who have Netflix use it, maybe we could boost sales, etc. Some stupid conversation. I am sure someone said NO and got introuble when SO MANY said "YES!" It makes sense that if you want to geek out, you can do so, and if you have a chick, she can be happy too. I think it's a great idea. I imagine it would have been something in the back conference room with a free lunch "let's get rid of this" "pass the soda."

Jim

July 1, 2008 5:20 PM

My wife and I used profiles. We just opened separate accounts when we got the first email. Price was essentially same, sometimes cheaper depending on the plan.

auggie

July 1, 2008 6:39 PM

Profiles are necessary for families; i would never watch some of my kids stuff and vice-versa (Dad likes the classics)

Now ! How about profiles with instant play/Roku queues for each and a Roko box for each kid and his / her tv for us, who have high speed internet service!

Mary

July 8, 2008 3:02 PM

I agree with Raghu - good for Netflix for responding so quickly. It sounds like Netflix was reacting to an initial complaint about the profiles feature, but received much more backlash from people who liked the feature and decided to please the majority. Regardless, this is a great example of a company that encourages customer feedback, actually listens to and takes into account that feedback, and isn't afraid to make, admit and learn from mistakes. Smart thinking.

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