Netflix tests pre-roll video ‘previews’ that are personalized to your interests

Netflix regularly experiments with new ways to introduce viewers to its own original programming, including through recommendations, trailers, and other featured selections on its homepage. The latest experiment, underway now, is the use of pre-roll advertisements that play before the show you’re about to watch. These are being used to promote Netflix series or movies that are live or coming soon, which Netflix thinks you might like.

The video previews are 30-seconds in length, and can be skipped by fast-forwarding (though there’s not an obvious “skip preview” button available). According to testers, the ads have been spotted on the web and select TV platforms, like Roku and game consoles.

The ads’ existence was first detailed by Cord Cutters News, following multiple reports on Reddit.

Netflix confirmed to TechCrunch that this is an A/B test of personalized video recommendations, one of hundreds of tests it conducts throughout the year.

A spokesperson shared the following statement:

“At Netflix, we conduct hundreds of tests every year so we can learn what helps members quickly find and start their next great binge. We’ve already seen the positive effect of the video previews we rolled out last year. Now we’re experimenting with video based on personalized recommendations for shows and movies on the service or coming shortly. If we don’t test, we won’t learn and we’ll never get better, and who wants that?”

This isn’t the first time Netflix has toyed with pre-roll video ads – which the company refers to as “previews.” Back in 2015, Netflix had tested pre-roll video teasers as a part of an ongoing experiment with using video ads, following earlier experiments with video trailers that appeared at the end of the shows.

Image credit: Imgur via Reddit user sshadowsslayer (cropped version of original image)

Those tests later winded down, however, and instead Netflix launched video previews across its service worldwide within its TV application in December 2016.

Unlike the pre-roll ads, those video previews will appear as you browse through the library looking for something to watch, and paused on a specific title. They effectively took the place of the still images Netflix used before, and were meant to give viewers a better idea about what the show was about, by playing a teaser video. Netflix continues to show these today, we’re told.

The company also this year rolled out a screensaver to its TV app, as another means of highlighting its original programming.

The idea to move  again into video pre-rolls emerged from the test of video previews, Netflix explains. The data collected then showed how video helped users make quicker, but more focused and confident decisions while browsing, says Netflix. It also reduced the time users spent browsing increased the time spent watching, and led to an increase in the episode completion rate, the company also told us.

Netflix isn’t the only streaming service to run video pre-rolls, of course. Premium cable networks like HBO or Showtime – which don’t include commercials as they rely on subscription fees instead – also tease their upcoming shows or new seasons before the selected program begins. Amazon was also spotted rolling out pre-roll ads last fall, and these ads continue to be shown today.

But Netflix is taking a different approach this time around, compared with the experiment from a couple of years ago. Before the preview begins, a message appears that reads: “The following exclusive preview has been selected just for you.”

In other words, which previews you’ll be shown will be based on factors like which shows you’ve watched in the past, and Netflix’s general understanding of your interests.

If you don’t want to be bothered by the ads, you can opt out from Netflix’s test through your Account Settings. (Account -> Test Participation.)