Netflix (s NFLX) will soon be testing a video preview feature for its online catalog on Sony’s (s SNE) PS3, according to Neil Hunt, the company’s chief product officer. The feature will use a pre-defined segment from the first few minutes of a movie for a two-minute preview, Hunt explained a few days ago on Quora:
“The video starts at the designated point and plays automatically for two minutes, and then prompts to “start from the beginning” or “continue playing” or “skip to next”.”
Hunt dubbed this new feature the “video merchandising” user interface, and said that it will be tested with a subset of Netflix subscribers on the PS3 in December. He didn’t reveal any further details, but judging from this description, it sounds like Netflix could launch something that replicates the functionality of YouTube’s (s GOOG) Leanback interface. Leanback allows users to watch a continuous stream of YouTube clips with little interaction, making it more suitable for TV experiences and simple remote controls.
Netflix only recently started to roll out the ability to search its entire VOD catalog on platforms like the PS3, but navigating the catalog still requires a lot of reading and active decision-making on the part of the end user (check out a detailed video review of Netflix on the PS3 below). The upcoming video preview feature, on the other hand, seems to take a step towards a more TV-like experience that offers choices based on actual videos.
Hunt made it clear that this is still very much an experiment:
“I expect it to be controversial — the idea of launching video unprompted is perhaps unexpected, but also perhaps compelling…”
Netflix has been putting a lot of effort into making its streaming offering more popular. The company has been investing billions in online rights, and it recently started an online-only subscription package for U.S. customers. These moves have been paying off; CEO Reed Hastings revealed during a recent earnings call that Netflix is now delivering more video online than through its DVD subscription business.
However, the Watch Instantly boom has also led to growing pains. The company suffered a number of outages in recent weeks, and has been offering refunds to affected end users.
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