Murphy Row’s Open Letter to Netflix: Just pick for me

Dear Netflix,

First let me say thank you. Netflix, along with my therapist, medication, and support from loved ones, are the only reasons I survive my continual bouts with depression and anxiety. With all my favorite shows available, I can effectively avoid the horrors of daily life by living vicariously through my friends (which is what my girlfriend and I started calling our favorite TV characters, as in, “Do you want hang out with Bob Belcher tonight, or Leslie Knope?”)

I mean this from the bottom of my heart, thank you, I literally would not be here without you.

Maybe it’s because you have helped me avoid my own poisonous inner monologue for so long that I feel I must inform you that you are missing a large viewership due to a lack of understanding of how people think about TV. There are two main reasons that people watch TV, to be entertained or to be distracted. Netflix has only focused on the former.

When I am looking to be thoroughly entertained, nothing compares to Netflix. Your format without commercials and automatically playing the next episode keeps the viewer hooked on the drug-like high of cliff hanger TV (how is Dexter going to have it all, husband, father, and serial killer?!). You have made binge watching such an enjoyable and commonplace activity that people no longer judge me when I state that my favorite hobby is TV. Unfortunately, your product is missing the second half of the TV watching equation, distraction.

While it is great to pick exactly what I want to watch when I am ready to be entertained, making me actively choose what to watch when I want to be distracted is counterproductive. I want an option to passively choose what to watch next. Functionally this occurs by flipping channels and landing on something good enough to watch, and the experience is vastly different.

This difference is best illustrated by Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. When I’m flipping through channels and USA has a marathon of Law & Order SVU, I can lose an entire day watching. In contrast, I have NEVER watched SVU on Netflix. Choosing a single episode out of the 17 seasons is just too daunting of a task. What era do you even start with? Do you want an episode with Detective Stabler or without? Do you want one where Stabler and Benson are getting along or where they are beefing? Do you want the blonde district attorney, or the red-head? Heaven forbid you accidentally select an Ice-T and Munch focused episode and waste your whole day. But if I’m flipping through channels and SVU is already playing, even if it’s an episode I have already seen, I will stop flipping and watch at least until the next commercial. The difference comes down to choice.

We are often too proud to admit it, but the simple choice of actively picking what to watch can be too much. We have all wasted hours deciding what documentary to watch only to change our mind after the first five minutes several times in a row. I am man enough to admit there are days when life has beaten me down like a villain in an 80’s professional wrestling documentary that when I get home and all I want to do is watch mindless TV. Yet the plethora of choices is so overwhelming that I end up not watching anything as I rock back and forth to the electric hum of an idle TV.

Making a passive choice alleviates the pressure to pick something I really want to see, and it allows me to watch something so mind-numbingly stupid that I surface hours later and several IQ points dumber. With a more passive choice, I am not so emotionally invested in the show and the choice which allows me to multitask and get some other adulting done. When the choice is passive, I don’t have to make the mental effort of actually deciding, I succumb to the mental abyss of just being done flipping channels.

For this reason I suggest that Netflix start providing multiple channels where shows are already playing similar to traditional TV. I get it, you do not want to be seen as a TV station, which is going the way of the silent movie, but you need to acknowledge our need to flip through channels and just let a choice happen. You can still use the algorithm to tell us what we might like, in fact I request that you do. If Netflix, Pandora, and Amazon all teamed up to tell me what to do next, I think my life I’m sure it would be going much better. This may be the most ridiculous or smartest thing I’ve ever written, but would you please just give me the option to let you make all the decisions for me.


The Decider

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