LAS VEGASâ€“Netflix is now testing personalized profiles for users of its streaming service, which will let each member of a household receive customized recommendations based on their viewing habits.
With separate profiles, Netflix can serve up Downton Abbey to Mom and Storage Wars to Dad. For kids under 12, parents can set their profiles to only offer content from Netflix's Just for Kids service so your 8-year-old doesn't accidentally start watching Breaking Bad.
In a demo here at CES, Netflix spokesman Joris Evers stressed that the Profiles feature is only in the testing phase. It's being rolled out to "tens of thousands" of current Netflix users, but if they don't use or like it, Netflix won't roll it out completely, he said.
How will Netflix know if Profiles are a success? If it leads to customers watching more content, Evers said. If Profiles does not inspire increased viewing, however, they "may never" be released to all members, he said.
Testing on Profiles started a few weeks ago in the U.S. and abroad, and will pop up on the iPad, PlayStation 3, and the Web. Evers showed off Profiles here on a PS3, which included a "Profiles" button on the top right of the main menu screen, along with a cartoon icon for the current profile selection. Select the Profiles button and a pop-up window will give you the option to switch to another profile. See the slideshow for more.
Evers said Netflix is also testing the option of letting international users add films to an Instant Queue, so they can come back and watch later. Queues have been a familiar site for U.S. users thanks to Netflix's DVD service, and Netflix incorporated the queue concept into Watch Instantly when it first launched streaming. But overseas, Netflix users only have a streaming option - and no Instant Queue. That might change soon, but again, it will depend on the feedback Netflix receives during testing.
Netflix's Second-Screen Experience
Meanwhile, Evers also showed off a feature that Netflix quietly launched last year - the ability to use your mobile device as a remote. Available on Android, iOS, the PS3, and Samsung TVs, users can find movies on their iPhone or Android device and opt to have it start playing on their Samsung Internet-connected TV.
Netflix hasn't made too much of a fuss about the service just yet, Joris said, because setup at this point is still a bit "convoluted." In order for it to work, both devices need to be signed in to the same Wi-Fi network and have the Netflix apps opened and signed in on both devices. When that's done, however, your mobile device - like the Nexus 7 Evers used during the demo - will recognize that your TV is connected to Netflix and give you the option to have the movie or TV show play on your TV.
In the future, Evers said the feature will be more "user friendly" and likely include controls that would help prevent a kid from messing with Mom and Dad by using a tablet to change their Netflix movie from afar, for example.
Until then, Netflix continues to bulk up its streaming library. Yesterday, it inked a deal with Warner Bros. Television Group, which will bring the studio's shows to Netflix next year, including Revolution, Political Animals, Longmire, and 666 Park Avenue.
When asked about Netflix's competition - from the upcoming Verizon-backed Redbox Instant to Amazon Prime Instant Video - Evers wasn't too worried. "We're experts at streaming," he said, and "far ahead" of rivals.
That includes Amazon Instant Video, which Evers criticized for a lack of personalization, as well as Amazon's efforts to get people to buy content at every turn. As a result, don't expect Netflix to offer paid downloads anytime soon.
"We see ourselves as a programmer," Evers said. Netflix picks and chooses the content that it delivers, and pulls unpopular shows and movies if they don't get enough traction. Again, the key metric is "how much are people watching?" he said.
Netflix is getting even deeper into programmer mode with the expansion of its original programming lineup. The Kevin Spacey political drama House of Cards debuts on Netflix next month, offering users the option to watch the whole season at once, rather than having to wait each week for a new episode. It also has the Arrested Development reboot in the works and a few other original shows lined up.
Yesterday, AT&T went up against Netflix and Redbox Instant with its own on-demand video service, dubbed Screen Pack. For $5 per month, AT&T U-verse customers will be able to tap into Screen Pack on U-verse TV, Uverse.com, and the U-verse smartphone and tablet apps.