Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Netflix feature requests and parental controls

We get Netflix now.  The kids are loving Netflix streaming on the Wii.  We haven't watched as many big people movies as I had expected.  But, overall, it is a neat service.  And the value per entertainment dollar spent is fantastic.

But I'm a software guy.  And Netflix is a software service.  So, of course, I have ideas on how to improve it.

I've scoured Netflix's website and I cannot find any way to submit a feature request or give unstructured feedback.  This is a mistake, both for their business model and the software itself.  Companies today have to engage clients and digest the feedback.  They have a blog, and comments are allowed.  But there is no way to contact anyone directly or engage with the company.

I'll link this blog post in the comments of their latest blog posts.  I'm also going to post it on their wall on Facebook.  But I doubt it will get noticed.

With that all said, I've got two feature requests/suggestions for Netflix.

1. A General Feedback Mechanism
Duh!  There are thousands of users out there who have ideas they would like to share.  Just listening to their ideas makes your brand more engaging and sticky.  Some percentage of those ideas are good or great.  Those ideas will genuinely make your service better.

As a baby-step you can just implement one of the general-purpose feedback websites, like  (Suggestionbox created that site for them as a teaser to try to engage Netflix.  Netflix isn't actively using it yet.  I have no affiliation with Suggestionbox.)

But you already have a platform where you are engaging with people.  So I would suggest that you build a 'Netflix feature queue' right into your service.  Give people the ability to write up feature requests (like this one) and place them in the queue.  Let others read and prioritize those features.  I'm sure that you have an agile development team (or three).  Put their scrum backlog in there and let clients interact with it.

You will have to moderate the content, obviously.  You will have tons of 'I got a DVD of Teen Wolf 2 that was scratched.'  Some of your customer service people will have to review every incoming post and filter out the stuff that doesn't fit.  And they will have to merge similar requests.

But when you build a feature that was customer-designed you should scream it from the rooftops.  Send someone out to get a picture of the person who wrote up the idea.  Give them a free month of service and a shirt.

2. Granular Parental Controls
I haven't seen anything from Netflix that suggests they want people to sign up for more than one account per household.  That means parents and children are sharing queues and streaming devices.  We have 4 kids--a large-ish family by modern American standards.  But I would suggest that our usage patterns are probably fairly typical.

In our house this means that the 'Suggested for Randy' queue is:
* Clifford
* Angelina Ballerina
* Se7en
* Salt
* Ben-10
* The Shawshank Redemption
* Blues Clues
* Dexter
* Cake Boss
* Shaun the Sheep
* The Blues Brothers
* Enter the Dragon
* Zombieland

This is disconcerting for me as a parent, because so many of my shows appear at the top of the queue when my kids are picking shows.  I don't need my kids watching even a few minutes of Se7en or Dexter while they know that I'm busy doing something else.

We have a Wii with Netflix streaming on our main TV.  We have Netflix streaming on the adult's computers, but we don't want to watch movies at our desks.  Everyone basically shares the main TV for Netflix.

We have 2 preschoolers (who can navigate the Netflix menu on the Wii and pick their shows.)  We have a 9 year old, a 13 year old, and two adults.  In a perfect world that's 5 separate instant queues on this device.  In reality, though, if each of the big kids got a personal queue then both of the little ones would demand their own queues, too.  So that's 6 separate instant queues on the Wii.

Each queue needs an optional password.

When I'm in a queue, I need to see the name of the queue at the top of the screen.  (On the Wii, the queues should each have a Mii.)

If I have several streaming devices (Wii, iPad, computer, streaming Blue-Ray player, etc.), then I should be able to pick which queues appear on which devices  The default should be for all queues to appear as options on all devices.  Some devices won't be able to handle multiple queues, especially at first, so they will have to default to just the first queue.

Each queue needs to have it's own settings for what's allowed.

There is a sticky problem on content that is not rated--old movies and TV shows.  So I would base the parental controls on a combination of Common Sense ratings and MPAA ratings.  And for the shows that are not rated by either service, I would control by genre.

So my parental control options would look like this:

Little Jenny's queue allows:
* All shows
* R and below
* PG-13 and below
* PG and below
* G and below
For shows that are not rated by the MPAA, allow:
* All shows
* Common Sense age 17 and below
* Common Sense age 14 and below
* Common Sense age 11 and below
* Common Sense age 8 and below
* Common Sense age 4 and below
* No shows not rated by the MPAA 
For shows that are not rated by the MPAA or Common Sense, allow:
# Action & Adventure
# Anime & Animation
# Children & Family
# Classics
# Comedy
# Documentary
# Drama
# Faith & Spirituality
# Foreign
# Gay & Lesbian
# Horror
# Independent
# Music & Musicals
# Romance
# Sci-Fi & Fantasy
# Special Interest
# Sports & Fitness
# Television
# Thrillers

For that last category the interface is checkboxes, not a single select.  A movie that is categorized as both 'Documentary' and 'Gay & Lesbian' would be blocked unless both categories are checked here.

Few parents are going to select 'Gay & Lesbian' or 'Horror', but the control settings should simply include all genres for simplicity's sake.  Any new genre that gets added to the system should show up here, and be unchecked for everyone who has already set up their parental controls.


  1. Agreed..........Netflix is making big money and dominating the market, but can't implement something as simple as parental controls. Seems irresponsible to me.

  2. Totally agree. Heck, even some of the DVD covers/titles are pretty racy/violent. I'd like to block out some of the horror stuff for my kid. That or someone from Netflix can come over to my house and talk him into sleeping after he's seen the cover for The Human Centipede.

    It's not much better explaining to him that the title "Fagbug" isn't something he can say in public, either.

    *SOME* control would be great. I mean, jeez.

  3. I love your ideas for Netflix and am equally frustrated at the absence of any legitimate feedback platform from which to engage them about it.

    Perhaps some of their "tiny competitors" will begin gaining viable market-share with a similar product that is MORE FAMILY-FRIENDLY & RESPONSIBLE with Parental Controls!

  4. wanting a solution for this too! our "big" girls (9&7) have ipod touch and have the app on there...I can set the controls to G, but then we can't watch any grown up shows....they dont even offer the option of a password to be able to view shows above the rating setting. Its ridiculous!

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