Netflix Shuffle Play button solves "what to watch?" dilemma

Netflix is testing adding a shuffle button to help solve "what to watch?" indecision, cutting through catalog overload with the help of some personalization smarts. The new "Shuffle Play" control is being trialed among some of Netflix's subscribers, offering a temptingly low-energy way to gain instant TV distraction.

Certainly, for all that there's to watch on Netflix, actually picking something out can be harder than you might expect. The streaming video company already organizes titles into categories and subcategories, some more niche than others, so that if you're in the mood for a "British whimsical murder mystery" there's probably a collection of them out there. All the same, even figuring out what subcategory to start with can be a chore.

The "Shuffle Play" button, therefore, bypasses all that. As you'd hope, it isn't an entirely random free-for-all through the entire Netflix portfolio of movies, documentaries, and shows. Instead, the company told TechCrunch, it'll take into account what the algorithm believes each account holder will like.

At its most obvious, that could be something you're already in the midst of watching, like a movie or TV show, or alternatively something you've saved in your list of things to watch later. More intriguingly, it can also make suggestions based on something you've already watched.

Exactly how successful that will be, of course, isn't just down to the strength or otherwise of the algorithm itself. It's also based in no small part on whether whatever your current mood might be will match with what Netflix decides upon; after all, that can be what discourages you from resuming playback on a show or movie you were partway through. If you haven't gone to the effort of setting up different accounts for each user, meanwhile, the suggestions are likely to be swayed based on what other people in the house are watching.

It'll likely be factors like these, and others, which help decide whether the "Shuffle Play" button stays as a permanent control. Netflix says that it's testing the new control with select users around the world, with trials kicking off on TV devices only from last month. Just how well it gets used, and how the feedback goes afterwards, will shape the button's longer-term fate.