Netflix and Crippling the Search

After futilely searching for an answer to my woes on Google, and coming up empty handed, I decided all I can do is just rant. So bear with me. (Although, if you have an answer to my problem, feel free to speak up!)


I've been with Netflix for a while, since April 2008. I started out with a 2-disk subscription, and at the peak of my DVD mania, I upped it to the 3-disk plan, which allowed me to watch one movie every single night. In fact, it's practically become a tradition for me to spend late summer nights, after everyone else has gone to sleep, watching a movie. I love the feeling of just me and a good film. I can go through 20-30 movies a month sometimes.

For that entire 4 years, I've been incredibly OCD about using the suggestion and rating algorithms provided for me by Netflix. Rating movies on Netflix has become a habit. I watch a movie, so I rate it. When I got my OG Droid in 2010, I would rate any movie I saw through my phone's browser. I mean any movie: ones at my friends' houses, ones on TV, even ones I'd see in theaters. As soon as the credits rolled, I'd plug in a rating. A quick check revealed I have 805 ratings on Netflix, as of this post. That's 200 ratings a year on average, counting films I've rated posthumously from my pre-Netflix era.

In a lot of ways, Netflix has become this digital journal of keeping track of what I've watched, and what I thought of the movie. I get annoyed when my roommates would watch movies on my account without asking me. I hated the idea of false entries being logged into that journal. Even if I don't rate it, that's not enough, since Netflix still thinks "I" had at least watched it. Even my girlfriend, who has a DVD-only account, has to appeal to me to let her watch something on my account.

I have trained my Netflix account oh-so-incredibly well. Often, Netflix can predict what I think of a movie within half a star. Trust me, I've tested this extensively. I think of what I'll rate it before I see the prediction, and It'll still be smack-dab-on. Netflix can produce far better suggestions of movies I'll like than even my closest friends. It really knows my tastes.

I know there are criticisms, the creepy factor, of a corporation knowing my personal tastes so well, and the banal factor, where in avoiding the less-appealing films, I'm dulling my senses to what a truly good film is. But you have to admit, it's handy. It's an incredibly great convenience being able to find a film that I'll at least enjoy a little bit.

Netflix gets criticized for it's instant selection on a pretty regular basis, and that always cracks me up. Of course, there's a lot of junk, and a lot of good films missing (blame the studios!), but there are plenty of really good films too. (For instance, I have ~200 in my instant queue right now.) And the suggestion algorithm is an excellent way to help you find those hidden gems in the chaff of B-list movies.

Here's the thing:

Even though that limited selection doesn't bother me directly, it's secretly been stabbing me from behind. Since the big price hike last year, I've gone to an instant-only account with Netflix, since that was what I mainly used. At first, this didn't inhibit my rating practices, since you could still search for any movie, even if you couldn't watch it. But, I think Netflix has recently grown self-conscious about their limited instant selection, because you can no longer search for movies that are DVD-only. For instance, just tonight, I searched for "The Artist" to rate it, and the top result is "The Con Artist", from 2010. No mention of the verbatim-title.

As a habitual Netflix rater, this is insanely frustrating, and I can't understand why Netflix chose to do this. It's not like consumers will figure "oh, well this movie must not exist, I must've been hallucinating." Either way, consumers will know that Netflix just doesn't have the title they want available on Instant. It seems better how they did it before, where they had a message saying "this movie is DVD-only". At least that way, they might get people upgrading to the DVD + Instant subscriptions, meaning more profits.

The decision also puzzles me from a user-interface perspective. By not acknowledging to instant customers that a movie exists, they lead the user to assume that they perhaps entered something wrong, that they're just not searching right. Again, with the old way, Netflix was at least telling the user that they did, in fact, use the search function correctly, but the movie wasn't available.

At the very least, Netflix should provide an option to include DVD-only search results. I can't imagine it would be all that hard to do (don't hold me to that though.) As is, I can't seem to find a good workaround. My third-party app has recently started turning up only instant results, and I can't justify paying twice as much just to satisfy my rating habit, especially when I can get DVDs through my girlfriend's account who, mercifully, isn't OCD about her account at all. I've taken to just keeping a running list of movies that I've seen and my 1-5 star rating, in the hopes that my problem will be answered, or that one day, the film will be available on instant.

If you're still reading, or read this at all, thanks for your time. That felt good to get off my chest. (tl;dr available on request.)