Apple CEO Tim Cook spent less than two minutes talking about
Apple TV during the company’s
WWDC keynote this week, but that was enough time for two
revelations: First, Apple’s TV guide app now pulls in movies
and shows from more than 50 streaming video sources. Second,
Amazon Prime will become one of those sources when Amazon
launches an Apple TV app later this year.
TV app, which arrived last fall, is supposed to solve
streaming video’s “what to watch” problem. Instead of making
people bounce between apps, it provides a central hub where
users can catch up on their favorite shows and get
recommendations on more things to watch. The TV app worked with
37 content sources at launch, and the list has grown by about
15 apps since.
All of which makes the absence of Netflix ever more
conspicuous. Although Netflix offers an Apple TV app, it
doesn’t support Apple’s TV app. (I wish Apple’s app
had a more distinct name, like Guide or Watchlist, but that’s
another story.) Without the
most popular subscription streaming service, Apple’s
ambitious plan for a unified TV guide doesn’t feel complete.
Why isn’t Netflix on board? I have some theories.
Too much, and not enough
notoriously protective of how and where its content shows
up outside of its own app.
In general, the company has embraced the concept of system-wide
search, allowing Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV
to index the Netflix catalog and list search results alongside
other apps. System-wide browsing is a different story.
Netflix currently offers a row of recommendations
on the home screen of Amazon’s Fire TV devices, and a
similar row will be available on Android TV devices—such as the
Nvidia Shield TV—with the
Android O update coming this fall. Netflix offers a
recommendations row in the Sling TV app on the
AirTV Player, too, which appears alongside streaming cable
Netflix recommendations are coming to the home screen on
Android TV devices.
On the other hand, Netflix doesn’t support
Roku Feed, a universal watchlist that alerts users to new
episodes of favorite shows, new content from favorite actors,
and price drops on movies. Nor does Netflix support Apple’s TV
app, which rolls a watchlist, recommendations, and genre-based
browsing into a single menu system.
I suspect the reason for the distinction comes down to control
and branding, with Apple taking too much of the former, and not
offering enough of the latter.
On Fire TV, Android TV, and AirTV, Netflix recommendations
appear in their own row, apart from anyone else’s content, and
with clear Netflix labeling. There’s never any confusion about
whose catalog you’re browsing, and navigating to other sources
requires a deliberate move onto a different set of content
tiles. By comparison, Apple’s TV app mashes disparate sources
into a single menu, with only a small logo in a corner of the
screen to tell them apart.
The Air TV Player gets a row of Netflix suggestions within the
Sling TV app.
Just as importantly, Netflix controls everything that appears
in those rows. The recommendations are similar to those that
appear on Netflix’s own home screen, which uses algorithms to
suggest new releases, trending videos, and recently watched
Keep in mind that Netflix has hyped the importance of its own
algorithms for years. In 2014, then chief product offer Neil
a vision for eliminating the grid of movies and shows, and
instead serving the three or four choices that users are most
likely to pick. CEO Reed Hastings reiterated that goal at the
CES 2016, and again
during the Code conference last week.
But Netflix’s vision might be at odds with Apple’s. Apple’s TV
app doesn’t even guarantee a particular space for any given
content source, let alone one where Netflix can serve its three
or four best suggestions.
The path not taken
Oddly enough, Netflix does have a place for
suggestions outside its own app on Apple TV. It’s part of the
old home screen, the one Apple replaced by default with the new
TV app, which is still accessible by double-clicking the
remote’s home button.
The oft-ignored spotlight row on Apple TV pulls in content from
your five favorite apps.
From there, if you move the Netflix icon into the top row and
highlight it, the upper adjacent row of large thumbnails will
become recommendations. It’s not unlike the row of Netflix
recommendations that appear on Fire TV, Android TV, and AirTV.
In a sense, this represents the road not traveled by Apple.
Instead of finding ways to expand this system, in which each
app gets its own space to advertise whatever it wants, Apple
effectively abandoned it to build a different kind of
aggregation. And while that approach arguably is more cohesive
than other platforms—Fire TV and Android TV, for example—it
also might have repulsed the biggest source of streaming video
for cord cutters.
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