Netflix Discontinues Profiles: WTF

Like everyone else on Netflix, I got e-mail yesterday letting me know that they’ll be discontinuing their profiles feature. This feature allowed customers to set up separate DVD rental queues for other members of their household under one account, and let the owners of those queues rate movies and get recommendations separately.

We haven’t really used the feature, but I find the move baffling. One commentator suggested it was a move to boost revenue, because it might drive some users to create separate accounts.

That may well be, but in the process of doing so, Netflix is destroying the investment of any customers who made use of profiles and were in the habit of rating DVDs. Presumably these ratings will end up pooled for the whole account., which is likely to reduce the overall quality of ratings for each member of the household (imagine a mother who rented a couple of Kung Fu movies a month, and what will happen when that gets mixed in with the dozen of teen and action movies the rest of the household rents). It also seems to reduce the amount of aggregate information that their recommendation engine has to work with.

It’s puzzling why Netflix is willing to piss off its most dedicated users. Perhaps it is easier to do if they rent more disks and therefore drive up costs. It could also be that Netflix has concluded that the value of the ratings and recommendations is lower than many outsiders thought. It was assumed that users would be less likely to switch to another service because they were getting value from the recommendations derived from their ratings. In addition, new users would start to see immediate value for rating movies because of the vast store of ratings data from other users that Netflix had to work with.

I have to wonder if somehow it has something to do with their attempts to build a video on demand business.

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