Like many other Netflix customers, I received the “Important News Regarding Netflix Profiles” email this week stating that Netflix “will be eliminating Profiles, the feature that allowed you to set up separate DVD Queues under one account, effective September 1, 2008.” Upon reading it, the claim sounded so absurd that I assumed it was phishing/spam. Seriously.
Sadly, the news started showing up with quotes and claims that the statement may actually be true. “Netflix Eliminating Account Profiles” (on hackingnetflix.com) claims that “Netflix spokesperson Steve Swasey said that the decision to eliminate Profiles is a ‘final decision.’”
Here’s the kicker though; The now famous email ends with, “While it may be disappointing to see Profiles go away, this change will help us continue to improve the Netflix website for all our customers.” Really? How so?
For those not familiar with Netflix Profiles, the feature was somewhat unique. Instead of having a single persona per account, Netflix Profiles allowed a single account (ie., household) to setup multiple profiles (ie., husband, wife, kids, pets, etc.), so that each profile could manage their own rental queue. It also allowed the main account holder (ie. the parents) to review the other profile’s queue (ie., the kids) and set limitations, like whether the profiles were allowed to rent R-rated movies. The feature was amazingly helpful in eliminating arguments about who controlled the rental queue.
Removing features from a product can be a tough decision for any Product Manager. Features that are rarely used are easy to toss aside; But (market differentiating) features that customers love should never be thrown out without helping the customers replace or replicate the same benefit in another manner. In this case, Netflix dropped a much-loved feature, but left their customers without an alternative (other then opening more Netflix accounts, which isn’t a likely reaction for irritated customers.)
[Update: 2008-06-30] Complaining works! Netflix just announced that they are keeping Profiles:
You spoke, and we listened. We are keeping Profiles. Thank you for all the calls and emails telling us how important Profiles are.
We are sorry for any inconvenience we may have caused. We hope the next time you hear from us we will delight, and not disappoint, you.