The ability to “shuffle” your music in a random order has been around since before the iPod was even a glimmer in Apple’s eyes — in fact, it arrived with the first CD players back in the 1980s — but now it looks like Netflix is aiming to bring that to an entirely new frontier for users who would like to binge-watch at random.
First spotted last summer in sporadic testing by TechCrunch, it looks like Netflix has a new “Shuffle Play” feature that’s getting ready to launch to a much wider audience very soon; Variety reported this week that the company officially announced the plans during its financial results to bring the feature to all of its customers worldwide in the first half of 2021.
While the idea may seem a bit bizarre on the surface, there’s a method to Netflix’s madness here, as the company hopes that it will bring more engagement from viewers who feel like watching “something” but just can’t make up their minds as to what.
According to Netflix COO and chief product officer Greg Peters, users will be able to skip the browsing experience entirely and just click one button to instantly play a title selected by Netflix.
It’s really working for us where our members can basically indicate to us that they just want to skip browsing entirely, click one button and we’ll pick a title for them just to instantly play. And that’s a great mechanism that’s worked quite well for members in that situation.Greg Peters, Netflix Chief Product Officer
While the feature is being dubbed “Shuffle Play” right now, that’s mostly based on how the button has appeared to testers — as a button directly beneath the user’s profile. This is joined by a “Play Something” button option in the sidebar.
In either case, this brings up a suggested show or movie to watch, rather than launching right into it, allowing the viewer to opt for an alternative by clicking a “Play Something Else” button. However, it’s not certain if the final version will launch in the same form.
In fact, when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings jokingly asked if they were going to use a Google-like “I’m feeling lucky” button, Peters responded by saying that they’re going to “come up with something better than that,” but that we won’t actually see what that is until it rolls out to the public.
To be clear, the titles selected by Netflix won’t be completely random. Instead, algorithms will be used to analyze your play history and offer up content based on what you’re most likely to be interested in, not unlike the current suggested content screens. The “Shuffle Play” feature will also look for items that you’ve already saved in your “My List” section, possibly offering up one of those directly, or suggesting something similar to what’s already on your list.
Further, despite the use of the word “Shuffle,” it’s uncertain if Netflix will keep playing more random movies or shows after the first one finishes, or if it will instead continue with more episodes of the same series.
The ultimate goal of the feature, however, seems to revolve around turning the Netflix experience into something more akin to watching traditional TV — just switch it on and something starts playing. Since it started rolling out to select groups for testing last summer, however, responses to the new feature have been largely mixed, with some describing it as a necessary feature they never even knew they needed, while others have described it as the very “definition of chaotic evil.”
Still, whether you love it or hate it, there’s every indication that it’s going to be entirely optional, so those who are quite sure about what they prefer to binge-watch can ignore whatever button Netflix chooses to put there and simply keep calm and carry on as before, although you’ll soon be able to pop in your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max and enjoy sweet Spatial Audio.