By Kevin Grant, SVP Sales

Netflix initially launched with less than 1000 titles, leading with the “not quite blockbusters” Boogie Nights and LA Confidential. Yet these first steps –taking the friction out of video discovery– literally put Blockbuster out of business. Carriers and OEMs should learn from this, and realize that it’s the software on their devices (not the breadth of content) that holds the ultimate path to satisfying subscribers and getting them to spend more time on their services.

Today, Netflix continues to win the streaming wars even though it doesn’t have licenses to all or “the best” content. True, their Originals (like House of Cards and Stranger Things) are compelling, but behind this growing investment remains a keen focus on discovery.  In particular, Netflix continues to be a leader in the critical Discovery aspects of UI/UX and providing proactive recommendations. This focus has worked so well that Netflix says that 80% of shows watched are driven by its recommendations, as opposed to search results.

In today’s world, in which media choices abound, the power of enhanced UI/UX, and proactive recommendations can mean everything. And there are massive opportunities to improve both on today’s smartphones. Better smartphone content discovery will be a game changer, and Netflix provides a fabulous canvas for understanding key lessons. Here are three that smartphone innovators can take from Netflix to build new content discovery experiences:

Lesson 1: “Brands are being built by companies that facilitate discovery without hindering continuity.” 

Once Netflix was done putting the video store out of business, it proceeded to change our in-home TV consumption altogether by following a simple logic equation – Discovery GT continuity. Or even simpler, giving top priority to people easily finding the titles they’ll enjoy. This is not to say that they ignore continuity – for sure, it only takes a tap or two to continue what you were last watching. But open Netflix and you will see groups of titles – like what’s trending, recommended for you, and, yes, continue watching. So no matter what you are always getting a glimpse of what you might watch next.

Turn on your cable box (at least the old versions) and you’ll routinely be delivered the last channel watched. Sure there’s “easy” access to a guide you can scroll through, but cable box guides are as tedious as trolling video store shelves trying to find the right title amongst a sea of boxes. You may chuckle at this, but the current smartphone O/S is largely the same – wake it up and it merely presents the app we used last. There’s a good chance what you used last isn’t what you now want and it’s definitely not going to have you salivating for what might come next.

For smartphone innovators like OEMs and wireless carriers this highlights a massive opportunity. Netflix has chosen to deprioritize this outdated logic of giving people what they watched last. Instead, they are using the same logic that movies were using when they played trailers before your feature film – just in a much more snackable format. So while some might be thinking that putting snackable content on the smartphone in the same way would be disruptive, Netflix literally built itself into a media giant by making this “disruption” part of its genius.

Lesson 2: “People always appreciate a small snack before a good meal… That’s the crux of discovery.” 

 “Courtesy of the chef….  Here’s an amuse bouche.” Who doesn’t like hearing that on date night at a nice restaurant? A nice, free morsel personally selected by the chef for you to try before digging in. We don’t always like it, but we’ll always try it. Netflix does this with video – showing people what’s out there. A new show comes out and it will give you the option to watch a trailer (or even auto-play it) the next time you open up the service.

Consider, again, the difference between Netflix and the cable box. If I’m browsing the Netflix interface and I stop on a title, in the background the trailer for that selection will start auto-playing adding an audio accompaniment to your selection process. Meanwhile, if I’m on Fios and browsing for something On Demand, the background noise is usually what I had on TV or an annoying advertisement that has nothing to do with what I’m looking at. In other words, the audio is trying to DRAW ME AWAY from making a selection.

This idea of showing what’s out there, even a glimpse, is also true in mobile. How often do you see a headline or story and think “I need to get back to that later”? Smartphones should have the ability for us to quickly add this to a read “queue” so when we are ready to consume our meal, it’s there for us. A little mobile “amuse bouche” (or snackable content) can go a long way to building longer lasting customer relationships.

 Lesson 3: “Companies that are satisfied with giving people what they had last are, literally, living in the past and destined to fail.”

Netflix’s tagline of “See What’s Next” is a finger on the nose snub at the competition that it’s left in the dust. While TV kept you watching the last channel you were on and Hollywood was focused on the current blockbuster, Netflix forward-thinking “See What’s Next” mentality allowed their subscription and recommendation based model to thrive. Netflix disrupted and squashed industries because they lived this tagline to the fullest.

Smartphones have become our connector to the news, stories, people, inspirations, and everything else that is in our life blood. It’s time for those that make the logic and interfaces to be more forward-thinking then simply serving us the last app. It’s clear that customers are gravitating towards solutions that have better and easier to use interfaces to aid in media choices. Without evolving to include smarter discovery that provides recommendations and makes it easier to find what we like, carriers and OEMs risk going the way of Blockbuster.