Xbox One Kinect
Netflix knows an awful lot about you.
The video streaming service knows what you've watched, how regularly you watch shows, what you started watching and gave up on – and when you gave up on it. It's used that information to become the bane of broadcasters – commissioning series like House of Cards, working on the assumption that if viewers like David Fincher films, Kevin Spacey and political dramas, they'll probably like a David Fincher-directed political drama starring Kevin Spacey.
Since Netflix's bread and butter is knowing what its viewers like, it's reasonable to assume that it's been eyeing the Xbox One's new Kinect sensor with interest. The Kinect can capture a vast array of data – from your heartbeat to your emotional state and whether you're paying attention to the screen.
"Privacy is sacrosanct"
Xbox One UI
Xbox One Kinect
But as useful as Netflix would find that data, it's not planning to use the new Kinect any time soon. "In the eventual future, maybe," Todd Yellin, Netflix's vice president of product innovation, tells Stuff. "We think user privacy is sacrosanct, and we want our users to be super comfortable with what we're doing. The idea of a camera peering into their living room is something that presents some great possibilities, but it also presents some big concerns."
Yellin predicts that attitudes towards personalisation and privacy will soften over time. "When we first started doing focus groups, back in the Netflix DVD days, we'd say, "We're personalising, we're paying attention to what you're watching." The term "Big Brother" would come up – now, when we talk about personalisation, you very rarely hear that."
The same thing is happening with social features – "some people are very uncomfortable with sharing what they watch, and some people are super comfortable. So our Facebook feature on Netflix is an optional feature; some people love it, some don't."
The new Kinect, says Yellin, "isn't something we would jump into haphazardly, this would take more of a societal evolution of people getting increasingly comfortable."
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Arrested Development Season 4
"What if you could radically alter the way stories get told?" Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos asked GQ earlier this year. Kinect's wealth of user data could help Netflix do that.
At the moment, films are built around three- or five-act structures, and TV shows are structured around the narrative peaks and troughs of ad breaks – which Netflix doesn't have to worry about. With Kinect, Netflix could find out what jokes the audience is laughing at, where their attention is flagging, and where their concentration peaks – to the minute. And if that five-act structure doesn't match those peaks and troughs? Change it.
Netflix has already shown that it isn't married to existing narrative conventions – its Arrested Development episodes aren't tied to the traditional 25-minute sitcom slot, and Sarandos has mooted the idea of mixing things up further, with 15-minute episodes and feature-length stories making up a single TV "season".
Kinect would give Netflix more information on its viewers' habits than any screenwriter or movie executive has ever been able to tap into – and it could change the film and TV industry more than we realise. But first, we'll have to get comfortable letting Kinect into their lives.