I’ve been a user of both Netflix and Prime Video for a few years now. Both are my go-to platforms for consumption of video content. YouTube is third on the list. I subscribed to cable TV last year, but it didn’t take much time for me to become a cord cutter. After watching my daily habits closely, I realized that I wasn’t getting any significant benefit out of paying an extra $60/month.
I’ve been thinking for some time now about how differently I consume video content on these two services. So, I thought of doing a deep dive into the critical parts of the user experience to see if that can help explain some of the difference.
I mostly access both of these either through a web browser on my laptop or through a Roku device pre-installed on my TV. But for this exercise, I’ve focused only on the browser experience.
Let’s start with the Search feature. Search is used, mostly, when you have a strong intent to watch something specific: a movie, TV Show, documentary, any particular genre, etc.
Netflix has a small yet prominent search icon on the top right, which expands into a search box on clicking. The search box also provides hint text to show different ways you can use Netflix search: titles, people, genres.
On the other hand, accessing the Prime Video search for a first-time user is tricky. You can access Prime Video search in two ways: by selecting Prime Video from a big drop-down list on the left of search box or by clicking on hamburger menu on the top left and selecting Prime Video option from the navigation drawer that takes you to Prime Video homepage. On Prime Video homepage, the drop-down list automatically switches to Prime Video. There is no hint text in the search box, though.
Search Results, Presentation, and Relevancy
The primary goal of the Search is to help you find/discover anything that matches your criteria as fast as possible without distractions along the way. Let’s see how both Netflix and Prime Video compare against that goal by searching for “comedy” genre.
Search on Netflix is fast and dynamic — search results and suggested categories on top of the search results change with every alphabet I type in the search box.
Search results are presented in a grid layout of same-size thumbnail images of videos. On the top of search results is a list of additional subcategories to help you narrow down your search quickly. Going back to the main category from any subcategory is slick — just click your mouse again in the search box, and the results change instantly. No need to hit the search button or type the text again.
If you find any of the thumbnails interesting, just hover your mouse over it, and it will expand in size to autoplay trailer/small clip of the video. Overlaid over the video is more information about the movie — description, add to list, like/dislike, etc. — which fades away after a few seconds so that you can enjoy the clip without any distractions and decide if you want to watch the complete video or not.
The number of search results is another heuristic to look at while evaluating the efficacy of a search. There is as much an art to it as there is science: showing only a few items matching the search criteria leaves the user wanting for more whereas exhibiting too many will confuse and scare the user away.
I’d say that Netflix has done a decent job here. I see approx. 300 results (might still seem like too many options to pick from, but it’s much better than Amazon Prime which we will come to later) in the comedy genre with the ability to narrow it down further using subcategories.
In conclusion, I’d say that blazing fast results, easy-to-see high-resolution landscape thumbnail images, grid layout to show more results on the screen, other suggested categories, and autoplay of clips along with additional relevant information about the video — all come together to help you find something efficiently that you might enjoy watching.
Though, there are some areas where I’d love for Netflix to improve to help me make the decision even faster or make results more relevant. Right now, search results appear to be a bit random. Though, as an outsider, I’m not sure how Netflix prioritizes these results. But some of the features I’d love for Netflix to explore are:
- Showing videos that I’m in the middle of watching or are already in my watchlist on the top of search results
- Surfacing videos with a high match percentage on the top (one of the videos with 95% match was in the 2nd row from the bottom of the search results)
- Prioritizing videos that are trending, recently added, based on your watch history, or matching with something you recently added to your watchlist.
- Making the results more dynamic: If I’ve seen a clip and trailer about a video and skipped or maybe disliked it, why can’t those videos be removed from the results or deprioritized to the bottom of the results.
Let’s switch gears and find out how good search results are on Prime Video for the same query.
As soon as I type “comedy” in the search box, Prime Video auto-suggests a list of categories, with background greyed out, which I can pick from. But, switching between categories isn’t an option. The only way for those categories to reappear is either by typing the whole word again or retyping parts of the original word back in the search bar.
I don’t like it. I wish I had the option of effortlessly moving between different categories the way I could do it on Netflix. One possible reason I think Amazon is sticking to this format is that’s how people search on Amazon to shop for products. Introducing a new search paradigm on top an existing one might create cognitive friction while people buy on Amazon — Amazon’s primary business. If that’s actually the case, I wish Amazon could find a creative way to work around that constraint.
How search results are presented in Prime Video is even a bigger letdown. Mobile has a limited screen size and navigating and selecting each alphabet through Roku remote is excruciatingly painful. A laptop is the easiest way for me to search.
First of all, results are shown in thumbnail list format with only one video presented in each row, making it super inefficient to scan and find videos.
All the space on the right side seems like a waste of precious screen real estate. “Included with your Prime membership” text is redundant, “Add to Watchlist” and “Ratings” can be overlaid on the image itself, not sure about the importance of information on “Starring” and “Directed by” at this point in the user journey.
I don’t get the rationale behind showing results in this format. Some of the decision making elements that help you choose a video — high-resolution images, a short and catchy descriptive text, a small clip/trailer of the video — are missing. Not sure why these elements aren’t prioritized in the current list view.
Also, I’m not sure why thumbnail grids aren’t used to show more videos per page. To add to the woes, clicking on any video title takes you to a new page with more information. Doing that for every video that piques your interest kinda………. is super inefficient!!!
Secondly, the number of results shown for the “comedy” genre is way too high: 40,000 results and ~16 results per page. Imagine the horror of choosing a comedy movie from a list of 40,000 results when you’re about to start your dinner. Are you kidding me!!
There are filters on the left navigation to help you narrow down search results (talking about the relevancy of some of the filters is a blog post for another day), and if I use the most potent one — videos with 4+ stars ratings, that’s still 20,000 videos. Amazon owns IMDB. I wish there were a way to filter based on IMDB ratings. Restricting my search to only 7+ IMDB rating would have narrowed down search results to a few hundred videos, maybe.
Shopping online vs. finding a video to watch online are two very very different behaviors. In the case of an online product purchase, a user may like to see as many options as possible and then use filters to narrow it down, maybe do comparison shopping on a few other websites, or save the product in cart or watchlist, maybe talk to a few friends if they’re undecided. But in the case of video, a user wants to find and watch a video as soon as possible without having the patience to scan through thousands of results.
Enough of the rant, I guess. Unlike Netflix, I don’t have a big wishlist for Prime Video search and hope some of the usability challenges I wrote above will be addressed soon.
Next blog post will compare the Browse experience on both the services.
Image Credits: netflix.com, amazon.com