Netflix drags streaming TV backward, cord-cutters should take note

When I reviewed the new Chromecast with Google TV in October, I gave it a strong recommendation in large part because it played nicely with Netflix.

In contrast to Roku players and Amazon Fire TV devices, the new Chromecast doesn’t make you jump through multiple apps just to see what you can watch. Instead, it offers its own top-level menu system for browsing the catalogs of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and several other streaming services. To me, this approach represents the future of streaming, and it seemed like Netflix was ready to embrace it.

That changed last week, when Netflix’s Google TV integration collapsed without explanation. While the Netflix app is still available on the new Chromecast, Netflix’s original movies and shows no longer appear in the Google TV guide, and you can no longer add Netflix originals to your watchlist.

The sudden reversal blows a big hole in Google’s plans to make sense of streaming, but it’s also a raw deal for anyone who already bought the new Chromecast (or worse yet, prepaid for six months of Netflix to get the device for cheap). Without the backing of the biggest subscription streaming service, Google’s TV guide is suddenly a lot less universal.

Searching for answers

We’ve seen this sort of thing happen with Netflix before.

Apple, for instance, offers its own universal streaming guide on Apple TV boxes, but it doesn’t integrate with Netflix either. On Roku players, the “My Feed” feature that alerts users to new seasons of TV shows doesn’t work with Netflix, and back when Microsoft was pushing the Xbox as an entertainment hub, its own attempt at a universal guide didn’t include any Netflix content. On previous versions of Google’s Android TV software, Netflix also hasn’t supported the “Play Next” row that lets users quickly resume shows that they’re already watching, despite earlier promises to do so.

googletvnowatchlist Jared Newman / IDG

Try to add Netflix originals to your watchlist on Google TV, and you’ll now get an apology.

In the past, we might have attributed this to skittishness on the part of all streaming services, which generally don’t want their own apps to be rendered irrelevant. But as time goes on, other services like Disney+, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime have all integrated with universal guides like Apple’s TV app and Google TV. Netflix is exception to the rule.

The overall picture is of a company that’s extremely touchy about making content available outside of its own app, where it can fully control the experience and try to keep users hooked. While Netflix generally supports search features on streaming devices, it’s been far less receptive to alternate means of navigating the Netflix catalog.

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