10 Things We Learned From a Netflix Employee's AMA
With 83 million subscribers in over 180 countries, Netflix streams more content directly into our eyeballs than just about anyone. And while employees tend to keep their trade secrets pretty close to the vest, we did get a glimpse of how the service operates thanks to a recent Reddit AMA with an anonymous Netflix software engineer using the name “Netflixandreal.” Here are some choice responses, which we’ll attribute to the more human-sounding “Andrea.”
Standard disclaimer: While you should trust everything you read on the internet, including the fact that Back to the Future co-writer Bob Gale is our best friend, we can’t offer definitive proof this poster actually works for Netflix (though he/she did post this image as proof). Enjoy.
1. THE MENU SELECTION IS LIMITED ON PURPOSE.
Ever scroll through Netflix's categories only to find yourself right back at the beginning? According to Andrea, the limited selection is intentional. “It's not to get you to browse longer ... we limit the selection so that you browse less and just watch something, dammit! The entire goal is to get you watching by any means necessary. If people wouldn't be annoyed by us just playing something [the] moment you went to Netflix.com, we would just do that.”
2. YOU NEED TO WATCH THE CREDITS FOR THE SERVICE TO CONSIDER A MOVIE VIEWED.
Ever see a movie come up as unwatched even though you burned through it days ago? You probably hit “Stop” before the credits rolled. Andrea feels your pain. “I find this super annoying, too. Sorry. We try to auto-detect where the credits are but sometimes this process doesn't work. There are too many movies/shows to do this manually. We just need to improve that tech.”
3. TEST FOOTAGE GETS THERE BY ACCIDENT.
If you’ve ever come across some of the short films on Netflix that play like Andy Warhol shorts, you’ve stumbled onto internal test footage that’s used to test resolution and motion artifacts. Andrea says you’re not really supposed to see those. “Someone made a mistake configuring the footage. It's not really a big deal, right? Enjoy all those changing pixels!”
4. FULLER HOUSE WAS A HIT.
Netflix rarely discloses viewership numbers for its original programming, crowing only when titles like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black do particularly well, but Andrea said that you can add one more title to the list of hits: Fuller House. “Similar to a[n] [Adam] Sandler situation, in that it did not do well critically and gets made fun of, but did really well for us.”
5. THEY BUY RIGHTS BASED ON A GUESS.
Andrea says it’s kind of impossible to know how many people might enjoy a given film if it’s licensed for streaming on the site, so content acquisitions come down to their best guess. “It's all about the deals Netflix makes with the content owners. We negotiate a price based on how many people we guess would watch the content we're bidding on. In the last couple years, it became harder because Amazon and Hulu sometimes want exclusive access to titles which brings the bidding up and often doesn't make it worth it for Netflix to outbid them.”
6. THEY GOT RID OF SOCIAL MEDIA—BUT IT MIGHT COME BACK.
Netflix used to offer an option for users to leave written reviews and comments, but that online community has vanished. The reason? “The internal thinking is that most people didn't use it and found the visual noise distracting. Netflix strongly believes in its data, so people like you and me are sad. Still, it's not like the idea is completely dead, I just think they need to figure out how to integrate it without annoying anyone. I think there's a team working on this right now!”
7. THE HIRING PROCESS IS ROUGH.
Andrea came on board Netflix after an extensive interview process, at least half of which was devoted to making sure there was a personality match. “The rest is about making sure you're technically capable. You'll talk to about eight or so people, some from HR, some higher-ups, some of the team you're applying to. Typically, if even a single person doesn't like you, it's unlikely you'll be hired. Ultimately the decision is with the team that's hiring, but it's very rare for them to overrule a single ‘no.’”
8. EMPLOYEES GET UNLIMITED VACATIONS.
Slackers. In response to a question about Netflix’s lack of vacation caps, Andrea said, “I think removing the number stressed that there's no magic amount you're entitled to, but also no magic maximum the company can expect you to take. I know of cases where people have taken more vacation than they could have before, especially if they time them well around the company's needs, and I know from personal experience that sometimes it’s hard to schedule any vacations at all. So the coin falls both ways. The longest time I've seen is six weeks or so.”
9. THEY PROBABLY WON’T BE STREAMING PORN.
“I doubt it'll ever happen,” Andrea said in response to a query about mature content. “For one, think about Aunt Doris, having gotten her new TV and thinking about signing up for Netflix, sees a headline in her newspaper that mentions ‘Netflix’ in the same sentence as ‘porn.’ There could a huge negative PR backlash even if the site was totally separate. Second, we know this market well, and don't know the adult industry at all. And thirdly, and probably most important, the competition is intense and huge.”
10. THEY MIGHT HAVE TOO MUCH MONEY.
When asked what he/she might do to change the company if he/she were in charge, Andrea said that the first order of business would be to balance the books. “Internally, I would crack down a bit on the ridiculous spending that's occurring everywhere. There's very little fiduciary oversight and I get the reason for that but it needs to change.” Dave Coulier doesn't come cheap, Andrea.