Netflix’s Neil Hunt Says Personalized Recommendations Will Replace The Navigation Grid

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Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt said today that the streaming video service will eventually evolve beyond its current navigation scheme, where users have to browse a seemingly endless grid of movies and TV shows.

“Our vision is, you won’t see a grid and you won’t see a sea of titles,” said Hunt, who gave one of the keynote talks this morning at Internet Week in New York City.

Instead, Netflix will deliver increasingly personalized recommendations. He suggested it’s “somewhat unrealistic” to believe that you’ll be able to turn Netflix on and it will just play the perfect choice for you — after all, you’re not always in the mood for the same type of program. However, presenting viewers with just three or four choices is “a powerful possibility.”

His talk covered a number of other topics under the umbrella of “the future of TV.” On their own, none of his comments were particularly surprising, but collectively, they represented a pretty broad vision for where things are headed.

For one thing, even though Netflix is increasingly portrayed as an HBO competitor, Hunt suggested that in the future, there will be “no more channels” — instead, the Internet’s on-demand capabilities will help companies like Netflix “build a different channel for everyone.”

Hunt also said that as Internet TV companies experiment with different ad models (free/ad-supported, paid/ad-free, and a hybrid of the two), they’re finding that “the ad-free model seems to be very popular with consumers.” In the future, he suggested that the big consumer goods companies “will have to find a different place to advertise their wares” — or perhaps the same personalization technology will also deliver fewer ads that are targeted to the right consumer at the right moment.

Internet TV will also free TV shows from their current format constraints, Hunt said, because in the same way that books and movies can be different lengths, shows will no longer have to run for 21 or 42 minutes per episode. On the technology side, he argued that the Internet is the best way to deliver 4K content, because we probably won’t see “another evolution” of Blu-ray, and the broadcast and cable industries have to deal with a lot more infrastructure in order to upgrade.

Hunt predicted that we’ll see more content taking advantage of higher frame rates, are closer to the motion we see in the real world — he admitted that there has been some “pushback” to this approach, but he compared high frame rate critics to people who resisted adding sound and color to movies.

Oh, and he addressed one of the common criticisms of Netflix — that it skews toward older content, rather than the new stuff that everyone’s excited about. Hunt countered that in his view, “There are no bad shows, but there are a great many shows with small, but devoted, audiences.”

Finally, Hunt talked about one of the big, contentious topics in the news — net neutrality. Netflix has been pushing for “strong” net neutrality, i.e. preventing Internet providers from charging a fee from companies like, well, Netflix to deliver their content more quickly.

Hunt argued that creating an Internet fast lane “feels like double dipping” — since consumers are already paying for Internet service at a certain speed — and that this approach is particularly problematic since ISPs rarely face significant competition. He added that Netflix is hoping to win in the Internet TV market because it has the best service, not because it’s “the biggest one who can afford to pay the bills.”