Two lives, one account

Netflix seems to think that all its customers are single.

Each month, I spend $16 on Netflix for video streaming and DVD delivery. Notice that I didn’t say we spend $16. That’s because Netflix is fundamentally an individual service with no recognition that someone might live and watch TV and movies with other people.

My wife and I are like most married couples; we have overlapping, but not identical, taste. Sometimes, in the evening, we’ll sit down together to watch an episode of White Collar or Luther together via Netflix streaming or The King’s Speech on DVD. Other times, I’ll catch up on reruns of Sports Night while she’s out, or she’ll take advantage of my absence to watch a mini-marathon of Prison Break.

Netflix’s problem isn’t a lack of choices; it’s the use of a single user account for a service that is aimed at households. If my wife wants to add a movie to our queue, she has to log in to Netflix using my email address and password. If it’s time to rate the movie Diner, we have a choice: rate it four stars for me, two stars for her, or three stars to split the difference. The first two mean our Netflix recommendations will be suited for only one of us. The last means we’ll get recommendations that are good for both of us, but we’ll each miss out on suggestions of content that one of us would really like and the other wouldn’t. And, given that we only receive one DVD at a time, do I even need to mention the fights over the order of the queue?

The frustrating thing about this is that Netflix could do so much better. A single paid account could be tied to multiple logins. We could each rate our own content and receive our own recommendations, while sharing the same “watch instantly” and DVD delivery queues. An optional feature could even allow us to each have his/her own delivery queue, and then take turns delivering movies from each. (A quick Google search shows that someone proposed this idea for Netflix five years ago; we’re still waiting.)

Imagine the potential for a family with kids. A parent could enable a filter on his kids’ accounts, allowing the kids to only browse movies rated G or PG. And anything added to the queue by the kids could generate an email to the parent for review or approval.

Instead of offering a set of features to help households really maximize their enjoyment of Netflix, the service forces the user experience to mimic the business model: one account, one user. Of course, I should point out that it’s not just Netflix. Amazon Prime, for example, allows multiple user accounts to share the free shipping, but not the free streaming videos or Kindle lending library. This despite both our user accounts having the same address and the same default credit card!

It’s time for online entertainment services to move beyond the one account, one user paradigm, and to start meeting people where they live. You know, in a home with other people.

Have you seen examples of online services that manage multiple person households well? If so, please let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Two lives, one account

  1. Max – the issue is with the content providers – not the distributors. The content is licensed for individual use; and the distributor must comply with the license.

    It’s the same greed on the part of the content producers which causes cable tv rates to constantly spiral upwards – and of late, the TV crowd has found a new and unfair way to do business. FCC rules mandate a cable supplier to provide the same “experience” as over-the-air. Thus the cable supplier must carry local broadcast channels. The unfair comes about by the TV stations’ insistence on being PAID by cable to carry programming which is otherwise available FREE over-the-air… and to have had courts decide in favor of the TV stations.

    Meanwhile the consumer feels the squeeze of higher prices, and blames the distribution system – when in fact it is the content supplier who’s made the price go up. Eventually though enough people will boycott the distribution systems to where the content has no outlet… and that brings us to SOPA/PIPA/ACTA and other coercive methods to remove the pesky Internet out of the picture and force us to just sit and be good little bumps on the couch.

  2. You’re probably right that the content licensing is at the heart of it. That said, even if only one account could actually stream the content, allowing multiple accounts for managing queues and increasing personalization could still work. And, it would even provide services like Netflix with additional data, which you’d think they and the content owners would appreciate.

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