Expensive high-end smart TVs may not be all that smart after all. Which is possibly why Netflix wants to step in and make them smarter – so you could, for instance, binge-watch content on them a little more easily. “I used to think the same thing about high end TVs (that they’d be smarter) but it’s the opposite,” Brady Gunderson, who is director of Partner Product at Netflix, tells me. “There is no direct correlation between an expensive TV and a better Internet TV. We have had instances where lesser high-end TVs made it to our NRTV list.”
NRTVs or Netflix recommended TVs are part of an optional program run by the US-based video streaming service wherein TV manufacturers strive to meet a set of standards to ensure their devices offer the best possible viewing experience - not just for Netflix, but for competing services as well. “Many high-end devices use their memory and processing for panel display. But these may also be devices where Wi-Fi would not boot, the app menu would be hard to find, apps would be hard to locate, the app menu would take time to launch,” Gunderson explains, highlighting how expensive TVs with great picture quality and design may not be all that optimized for a hassle-free Internet TV experience.
Netflix recommended TVs offer easier app access and broadly speaking, better performance out-of-the-box because they’ve passed certain criteria set by Netflix - there are seven in all and TV manufacturers are required to comply with five, at least. Every year Netflix updates its criteria to meet the demands of the changing times - this year it is bringing two new updates.
-- Always Fresh: the TV updates in the background, so the latest Netflix TV shows and movies are always displayed.
-- High-res Netflix Interface: sharper text, clearer images, and the latest functionality.
“Whenever we add a new feature, we always do A/B testing so that there is data to substantiate and not just our own belief.”
This year, Netflix recommends select models from Samsung, Sony and Panasonic that will seemingly provide a top-notch experience – the number is significantly higher from last year. But more importantly, “we are also ensuring Netflix works seamless on lower end TVs too,” Gunderson says.
Even though India is a mobile-first market for Netflix, smart TV usage is also on the rise – making Netflix recommended TVs more relevant now than ever, which is also possibly why it is now looking at lower-end TVs too.
“When people buy a phone there are many factors they consider. Video is one of them, but it is not the primary reason why you would buy a phone. However, many consumers who are buying a smart TV, a large part they are buying the TV is to get a great Internet TV experience to access apps such as Netflix. They want to be able to experience 4K, HDR etc on content that comes with such capabilities and we want to give the best experience to them through NRTV.”
Netflix recommending lower-end TVs is in sharp contrast to how it began its NRTV journey in 2014 – back then, the program was reserved for top-of-the-line smart TVs. But that’s true for Netflix on the whole in 2019 (and possibly going forward). Netflix has been testing a Rs 250 subscription plan in India – which is also its most affordable plan in the world. A basic Netflix plan starts at Rs 500 a month in India, which is relatively a lot more expensive than counterparts from Amazon (Rs 999 a year) and Hotstar (Rs 365 a year).
A Rs 250 monthly plan should theoretically help Netflix break new subscriber ground in a price sensitive market like India – while lower priced NRTVs should entail in better all-round experience. The times they are surely changing!