When Netflix first began offering movies and TV series via streaming in the mid-aughts, it was a pioneer. When it started offering original series in 2013, it was without competition, as Amazon and Hulu took months to create their own. But in 2020, the field has become crowded. Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, and Peacock are all bidding for eyeballs. Disney has even started innovating, with a "Premier Access" tier. But never fear, Netflix is also coming up with new ideas, like "Shuffle." But how does Netflix's Shuffle Play option work? It's all about helping viewers discover new titles.
If the first thing you think of when someone says "shuffle" is music and iPods, you're not alone. So far, the idea of mixing and matching content algorithmically had mostly applied to music. But "shuffling" and TV seems a little more jarring. It's one thing to have artists like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift mixed in a jumbled playlist. It's quite another for the Second 2 premiere of a serialized show like The Umbrella Academy suddenly followed by a random episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
But that's not exactly how Shuffle Play works. Viewers are given a little more control, since so many TV series are made to be binged with one story told over several episodes.
Instead, Shuffle Play is for those who cannot figure out what to watch tonight. If one knows they are binge-watching The Umbrella Academy, for example, there's no need for it. But what if it's just a random Tuesday and there's nothing that catches your attention? Mouse over the Shuffle icon and hit "Play Something."
In my testing, "Play Something" got me the Season 1 premiere of Bodyguard, with a message "Because you watched Call The Midwife." Not a bad choice, considering my tastes. When the episode finished, I had the option to hit "Play Something" again if I wanted to try something else, or continue to Season 1, Episode 2. The result of a second "Play Something" click landed the first episode of The Great British Baking Show after it moved from PBS to Netflix.*
(*Notably, these are both "Netflix Original"-labeled shows, suggesting the "Shuffle Play" option currently only pushes Netflix-owned content.)
According to The Verge, Netflix has been testing the Shuffle Play option since July. Currently, it's only available on "TV devices," aka not for laptop users. But as more viewers find the option rolling out to their accounts, it's a sign it could become a regular feature.
But it's not a done deal yet. The Verge quoted a Netflix rep as saying: "We run these tests in different countries and for different periods of time - and only make them broadly available if people find them useful."
It remains to be seen if Shuffle Play will become a widespread feature. But if it does, it could affect what goes viral on the streaming service next.