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Netflix Tests TV-Like ‘Watch Now’ Experience to Start Streaming Without Browsing the App (EXCLUSIVE)

Netflix Watch Now button
Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix is starting to feel a bit more like regular television to some of its members: The streaming service began a global test of a new feature for its TV apps Tuesday that offers users the option to skip browsing titles, and instead start streaming right away.

Dubbed “Watch Now,” the new feature is being added as a button to the profile selection page that pops up whenever users launch the Netflix app on a smart TV or streaming device. Anyone who doesn’t have a profile, or already started to browse titles, can also find the same button in the app’s sidebar (pictured above).

Upon selecting the “Watch Now” button, Netflix starts streaming the next episode of a show a user is currently watching, something from their personal list, or a title that has been selected by Netflix’s algorithms. Viewers get to see a brief explanation as to why the title was chosen, which could be because it is similar to a title watched before.

The service is also adding a new “Play Something Else” button to the video player itself, giving viewers a chance to try a few of Netflix’s recommendations without having to browse the service’s app. However, at least during this test, the “Play Something Else” button is only being displayed to users who started their viewing session with “Watch Now.”

Netflix showed off the new functionality in the video below:

Netflix is famous for testing all kinds of features with subsets of its audience, and a test doesn’t guarantee that the feature will eventually find its way into the final product. In some cases, Netflix has been restricting tests to certain local markets, or device categories.

This time around, Netflix is experimenting “Watch Now” feature for one to two months with a small percentage of its audience worldwide. The test is being limited to TVs and TV-connected devices, including Roku and Fire TV streaming devices. One could imagine that the company might try something like this on mobile devices down the line as well.

Netflix’s trial with “Watch Now” just as the industry as a whole is looking for ways to simplify the content discovery experience on smart TVs, which includes a move away from app-centric interfaces. Apple CEO Tim Cook, for instance, famously exclaimed a few years ago that the future of TV was apps. These days, his company is aggregating content from a variety of sources within its TV app, doing away with the need to browse separate apps.

Publishers and device manufacturers have also increasingly been looking to well-established usage patterns predating streaming to simplify smart TV experiences. For instance, ad-supported video services like Pluto and Xumo present on-demand content in a curated, linear-like fashion, complete with a program guide that resembles the look and feel of a traditional cable EPG.

With its new test, Netflix isn’t doing away with the app browsing experience altogether. However, the company is clearly taking some cues from traditional TV viewing to offer a more leanback-friendly experience as an alternative.

Netflix executives have long talked about something they like to call moments of truth. “Those decision points are, say, at 7:15 pm when a member wants to relax, enjoy a shared experience with friends and family, or is bored,” the company explains in its Long-Term View manifesto. “The member could choose Netflix, or a multitude of other options.”

Doing away with the need to browse its app, and spend time deciding what to watch next, could conceivably help the company win more of those moments.