Netflix is bringing previews for its shows and movies to its mobile app this April, announced the company’s VP of product Todd Yellin at a press event Wednesday in Los Gatos, Calif. The new feature will allow Netflix subscribers to sample content with 30-second video previews that are being displayed as vertical video.
Netflix introduced a similar preview feature as part of its TV interface a few years ago, but it’s the first time for the company to introduce vertical video within any of its apps.
Previews are being integrated into the home screen of the mobile app with round icons that vaguely look like Instagram stories. Users tap on those icons to watch one of those previews, and then swipe through them to explore more. At launch, Netflix will be presenting up to 75 of such previews to swipe through at a time.
Yellin said that previews will be available for “many hundreds of titles,” including both originals and licensed shows. The company has been using its video-editing team in Los Angeles to custom-crop all these 30-second previews, he said. “It’s a huge part of the catalog.”
Yellin shared the news as part of Netflix’s Lab Days, a two-day event used by the company to showcase some of its technology. He said that the company was looking to innovative in mobile because it had proven to be such an important viewing modality for Netflix’s user base.
Around 20% of all Netflix viewing happens on mobile devices, but over 50% of all Netflix members use their mobile devices to access the service on a monthly basis. “We’ve put a lot of investment in mobile,” said Yellin. Some recent improvements include the launch of mobile downloads, as well as codec optimization to enable higher-resolution viewing with as little as 200 kilobits per second.
Netflix is famous for spending a lot of emphasis on testing its features before rolling out to its entire user base. Mobile video previews passed this test, but Yellin also admitted Wednesday that many features don’t make it.
One example cited by him was the idea of adding social features to Netflix. The company experimented with many ways to integrate social features in its service over the years, said Yellin: “We have tried and tried and tried.”
At first, the company tried to build its own social network, but it only saw 2% of its users participate. After shutting down that iteration, Netflix experimented with letting users share their Netflix viewing behavior on Facebook. “It didn’t work,” Yellin said.
These days, Netflix has a very different take on social. Instead of trying to recreate social networks, Netflix simply participates on them through dedicated accounts for some of its shows. “We have fans that are huge at a title level,” said Yellin.