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Summary:

Want to know what the future of Netflix looks like, and what kind of features the company will offer in the months to come? Then pay close attention to its Canadian subscription service, as many new features are rolled out north of the border first.

Canada

Netflix is a company famous for its A/B testing. It constantly tries new features and interface tweaks in the wild, serving them to a small subset of users. However, in recent months, Netflix added a special C test to its repertoire: New features are regularly rolled out in Canada first before reaching the U.S.

Case in point: When we wrote about its plans to ditch the Instant Queue earlier this week, a Canadian reader informed us that he never even had the queue to begin with. Instead, he’s presented with a catalog-centric user interface that offers access to genres, newly arrived titles and a “Taste Profile,” which offers access to personalized recommendations. The “Add to instant Queue” button is also missing from individual release pages. (Check out the screenshots below for a detailed look at the Canadian Netflix interface.)

We asked about the lack of an Instant Queue in Canada, and Netflix VP of Corporate Communications Steve Swasey acknowledged via email that it doesn’t exist up north. “The Queue was created for DVD rentals and is not necessary for instant watching,” he wrote, adding: “Netflix members on a pure streaming plan in the U.S. still have a Queue as it was grandfathered in.”

This isn’t the first time Canada has become a testbed for Netflix. The company first offered its streaming-only subscription for the Canadian market, and in fact, doesn’t offer any DVD rentals north of the border. Two months after the Canadian launch, Netflix proceeded to also offer streaming-only subscriptions in the U.S..

Another feature first introduced in Canada was the new streaming interface for the Nintendo Wii. Upon launch of the service in September, Canadians were able to search and browse the entire Netflix catalog on the Wii. Netflix ended up rolling out a similar interface, combined with disc-free streaming, a month later in the U.S.

Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt went on the record about the company’s extensive A/B testing last week. Asked on Quora what kind of features Netflix evaluates this way, he said:

“Short answer — almost everything. The most visible test at present is between three quite different user-interfaces on the PS3 streaming application. We also tested some variations on UI for iPhone, and there are some interesting website UI variations in the pipeline.”

Hunt went on to say that Netflix is also using A/B testing for a lot of its under-the-hood magic, like the algorithms used for movie discovery, page load time and video encoding quality. He also hinted at plans to introduce a more TV-like experience by presenting users with video previews.

Check out the pictures below to see how Netflix looks like in Canada (click to enlarge):

Canada-themed photo courtesy (CC-BY-SA) of Flickr user Яick Harris.

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  1. Want to know what Canada doesn’t get?

    Content.

    I am dying to give them my $7.99/month, but jeeze, there is just nothing there. When it takes me more than 5 minutes to peruse the entire catalogue I might reconsider.

  2. How do you create a list of things to watch later?

  3. Daniel Thornton Saturday, December 4, 2010

    There is very little content here in USA for streaming, Movies are mostly over a year old… after you have this service for 6 months or so you run out of things to watch…

  4. The lack of instant queue for Netflix Canada is it’s weakest link. Discovering new content on Netflix is fairly difficult to begin with, and not being able to queue films you’re interested in watching at a later date is practically service breaking.

    There is no customer-centric reason to remove (or never offering it) the instant queue. Without the queue, I imagine it is nearly impossible to tell when a film expires from the service. With it, there would be instances where films you added to the queue suddenly disappear. Could this be part of the reason for removing or not offering it?

    I’d like to see concrete A/B results with and without the queue and what, exactly, Netflix is testing for. I can tell you from experience that I watch less movies on Netflix Canada because I don’t have an instant queue. I guess it’s time to get out a pen and paper to make a list the old fashioned way…

  5. “The Queue was created for DVD rentals and is not necessary for instant watching”

    Wow. Does he have any idea how people use their service?

    I guess he thinks it’s a better system to have to search for content every time you want to watch something and never save anything for later.

    Let me tell you from experience: that is only “better” if better means never using the service because it’s such a pain in the ass.

    Thanks Netflix, for treating your Canadian customers like paying beta testers who don’t deserve to have the same basic functionality as your American customers.

    If you can’t bookmark something or otherwise mark it for later viewing, the service is practically unusable. Randomly hunting through content is not acceptable.

  6. Apple TV to Break 1M Mark: It Should Thank Netflix: Apple « Tuesday, December 21, 2010

    [...] base will continue to experience strong growth, reaching 50 million subscribers by 2015. Since it moved into the Canadian market this fall, Netflix has been able to reach a much broader audience. Apple may have a lot of things going for [...]

  7. I concur Tyler W. The lack of no queue on Netflix Canada is seriously annoying. They should have some kind of bookmarking mechanism at the very least. I bet if they took a poll with their Canadian customers, they would get well over 50% wanting some kind of queue. There are many movies I see, that I say “oh that looks good” and then forget what the heck it is called a few days later. The other “lack” with Netflix Canada is the streaming options. Where’s WD Live, Where is Boxee Box?…I’d rather have a living room streamer than a bloody IPAD, ITOUCH. As well not everyone has a gaming system.

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