Netflix has removed its randomized selection "surprise me" function.
Netflix has been making some big changes lately, including instituting harsh restrictions on sharing passwords with others. While that particular decision is annoying, it at least makes sense because we know Netflix is worried about its bottom line after it began losing subscribers (and therefore losing stock value) last year. Now, though, the Wall Street Journal reports that Netflix is making another change: removing the “surprise me” function that picked content out at random for users to watch.
Ironically enough, Netflix added the “surprise me” option back in April 2021, back when the streamer was still on top of its game. Back then, the function was meant to help users who might be suffering from a kind of decision paralysis. Since there are literally thousands of things to choose from, the “surprise me” option allowed the algorithm to look at what you’ve watched before and take a stab at what random content you’d like to watch next.
In retrospect, the ability to shuffle up something random on Netflix was always a weird decision: when the company first added this button, it felt a bit like the Google “I’m feeling lucky” button. However, Google’s button usually works better because you’re already searching for something specific and users tend to click on the top search results, meaning this button could potentially save time when you’re researching. By comparison, the Netflix “surprise me” button seems designed to kill time by plucking something from the vast streaming library that you haven’t watched yet.
Unsurprisingly, the reason that Netflix removed this function is that the vast majority of users weren’t taking advantage of it. This seems to be the case of a company not knowing exactly how its users actually consume content. For example, most of the people we know have a long backlog of movies and shows that friends and family have recommended watching, and very few people are so “caught up” on recommendations that they want Netflix to help them spin a virtual roulette wheel and get some random bit of content.
Ostensibly, this button would also help users discover content on Netflix they would otherwise overlook, but there are better ways that streaming platforms can do this. For example, horror streaming service Shudder has channels of “live” television where various selections from its streaming library are broadcast throughout the day. Not only does this allow them to do live events (like the very popular Joe Bob Briggs movie specials), but it allows streaming customers to replicate that childhood feeling of surfing the channels late at night and finding something delightfully weird to watch.
Ultimately, we probably shouldn’t read too much into Netflix removing the “surprise me” button from its platforms due to lack of use. It’s very easy to dunk on the streaming platform now, and the company has made more than a few decisions worthy of scorn. But it’s almost refreshing to see the company decide to drop a function nobody wanted instead of doing the usual Netflix move: canceling your favorite new show, but only after it had two years to get really, really good.