Streaming revolutionized the entertainment industry. So why does something as simple as trying to find your favorite show feel like navigating a clunky RCA remote from the 1990s?
By this point, it’s clear streaming is here to stay. 87% of American households subscribe to at least one streaming service. On top of that, the industry is projected to spend $23 billion in 2023 to pump out fresh content.
But there’s one thing the hefty investment clearly isn’t being allocated for: user interface.
Regardless of which streamer you prefer, chances are it’s despite its design, not because of it. When Netflix (NFLX) was in scrappy startup mode, some user friction was to be expected. But design flaws from longtime tech giants like Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN) require far more patience.
Here are just a few examples of questionable design choices by multi-billion dollar companies:
• Amazon Prime includes free, add-on, and paid content in one place, making it hard to know if series are included in the service or if they’ll charge a rental fee per episode.
• Hulu makes viewers hunt for the very show they were just watching.
• Apple TV+ hides the “continue watching” menu under the fold.
• Netflix automatically skips the credits to get to the next episode — which, let’s be real, are sometimes the best part of the show.
Other pain points include confusing landing pages, playback buttons that don’t work, and inescapable recommendations for new shows obscuring your favorites.
These complaints have become so commonplace, they’ve actually made it into the content created by these platforms. A scene in Succession featuring two characters urinating on a phone with a streaming app open was widely interpreted as a jab at the much-maligned interface of HBO Max (WBD) — which, ironically, produced the show.
These questionable design choices probably aren’t an oversight, as they speak to a tech company tradition: the tug of war between user experience and corporate goals.
For example, streaming companies want to promote their newest shows. So they place them front and center when you login, forcing you to scroll and dig for your favorite ‘90s sitcom. This may help more people find the show, but at the cost of user frustration. On top of that, many streamers have merged in recent years, leading to awkward integration of competing software.
Hopefully streaming companies will one day address the consumer backlash and start prioritizing a good user experience over hitting quarterly engagement goals. In the meantime, viewers will have to settle for laughing about these shortcomings — even if it’s unclear if they’re laughing at the streaming giants, or with them.
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