Netflix’ “Max” Will Change Your Life – Or Maybe Just Cure Decision Paralysis

Patty Castillo | Aug 9, 2013

Netflix Max Tool

How many times have you sat down in front of your television with no idea of what you want to put on? I’ve spent countless hours browsing through the many movies, documentaries, and television shows on Netflix hoping that something will catch my eye, only to give up and watch another rerun of Psych. Netflix Max aims to change that by offering suggestions beyond just the popular and recent offerings on the site’s home page. Available to Netflix users accessing the streaming service via a PlayStation 3, Max is a “personalized conversation experience”—a virtual assistant to help you make decisions on what you want to watch.

How Max Works

Max interacts with you in a couple of different ways. First, you can answer Max’s questions about your current mood and taste in television and movies. It works like Netflix’s regular suggestion service, in which you rate shows and movies out of five stars. Another way for Max to offer you suggestions is by playing different games. “The Ratings Game,” for instance, has you rate movies in a genre of your choosing in order to come up with a possible match. “Celebrity Mood Ring” has you select between two different actors (or choosing neither to get two new actors) and then finding a movie or television show that features that star. After Max has an idea of what you like to watch, he’ll suggest two highly specific (and often comical) genres for you to choose from. If you are feeling especially adventurous, you can go with “Max’s Mystery Call” and instantly watch a random selection of his choosing.

The Reaction So Far

The response from the industry and Netflix subscribers has been somewhat divided. Reviews aren’t necessarily raving, but most seem to appreciate Netflix’s attempt at solving the “what to watch” dilemma.

“[Max] turns out to be a pretty nifty little addition, even if you only use it once,” says Mike Wehner of AOL tech site GDGT Central. “In fact, one of [the] movies Max recommended has become something of a favorite in my household—meaning that both my wife and I enjoyed it equally—and that’s something that rarely happens.”

But what about the experience itself? Sean Buckley of Engadget says it’s a fun addition, but not everyone will dig it. “[The] real kicker is how fun it is to play these little games,” he says. “It may not be for everyone, but Max is definitely a novel and entertaining way to pick a film”.

Buckley’s assessment of it not being right for everyone is spot on, with Ricardo Bilton of VentureBeat describing Max as a “somewhat obnoxious conversational recommendation system,” while Jordan Valinsky at BetaBeat says, “It’s like if Clippy became moribund with mono and couldn’t muster up the strength to leave the couch. And the font is ugly.” Just goes to show, you can’t please everyone.

Max to the Future

According to the press release announcing Max, Netflix will be watching closely to see if he connects with audiences. If he does, the company will roll out the service to other devices, most likely beginning with the iPad.

Early results are promising. Todd Yellin, Vice President of Product Innovation, told the LA Times why they are hopeful and will continue to improve the feature. “It moved retention,” Yellin said. “And making it better and better will continue to move retention.”

The Bottom Line

So, whether you find him an annoying intruder or your new best friend, Max has arrived and might soon be coming to your device. On the positive side, he is totally optional. If you don’t want his input, just don’t click on him. But if you are having one of those days where you just can’t decide, who knows, by just spending a few minutes with Max, you might discover something new and amazing. Lately, Netflix has been getting things right, bringing back Arrested Development and signing a new deal for original content with Dreamworks Animation. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they know what they are doing here, too.

Have you tried Netflix Max? What did you think of him? Does this new and fun way of receiving recommendations make you more likely to watch what is suggested? Let us know in the comments below.

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