If you’re a Netflix customer, it might surprise you to know that you’re automatically a guinea pig for the streaming giant’s interface experiments. The ‘Test participation’ status of your Netflix account is opt-out, rather than opt-in (and if you do want to opt out, you can do so here).

There’s no confirmation regarding how many people at any one time are beta-testing the latest Netflix UI tweaks and overhauls, any specific details about which platforms the tests apply to, or any substantiation that beta users are a ‘tiny minority’.

Beta testing can be frustrating even if you’re ready for it, more so if you didn’t know you were doing it. Recently, using Chrome on Windows 7, my own Netflix experience changed entirely, with the selected video now showing as a species of pop-in on the selection page:


netflix-10-seconds-earlierAdditionally this new UI features half of Amazon Prime’s ’10 seconds forward and back’ feature; the first half, in that it will let you move to ten seconds earlier in playback, but not later.

Furthermore the experiment adopts Amazon Prime’s ‘click to play/pause’, behaviour; however, since it retains Netflix’s own ‘double-click to go full-screen’ model, you often find yourself unintentionally playing or pausing the show while you were trying to maximise it. However, it’s liveable.

But the most prominent feature, I found, was one I could only attribute, at the time, to a bug: if you leave the player paused for more than a few minutes, causing the buffer to auto-freeze, the new Netflix UI will completely forget your place and go back right to the start (this does not happen if you restart playback soon enough the stop the traditional Netflix buffer freeze).

This behaviour, a Netflix support agent told me, is intentional.

When I first saw this, in Chrome, I asked Netflix for tech support help, and was advised to clear my cookies and retest the functionality. Indeed, I was now able to restart the movie at the point I left off.

Over the next few days, it became clear that the behaviour is ubiquitous across the new interface. A call to Netflix tech support informed me that I was running an old operating system, and that I couldn’t expect complete compatibility. Pressing the matter, a technician advised me that I would need to completely uninstall and re-install Chrome before he would come on the line with me to even look at the problem.

Not wanting to lose my settings, I downloaded the latest stable build of Chrome Canary instead, and for a while the Netflix post-freeze amnesia was gone. Then it returned again across all titles.

A third chat with a Netflix support agent revealed the truth – that I was witnessing an interface experiment, and that the amnesia was intentional:

‘ [This] UI makes you go back to the start of the show so this way in case you missed any part of the movie/show you can watch it again with no troubles.’

So there you have it. If this particular iteration of the Netflix experience goes mainstream, it seems to be ‘use it or lose it’, as far as pausing and playing. The effect may be slightly reduced if watching Groundhog Day.