While so much of technology falls by the wayside—current stats put the figure at 95 percent—Netflix has endured and grown exponentially since its launch over 20 years ago. There are now more than 137 million paid subscribers to the streaming content service. In the U.S. alone, Netflix streaming uses 19 percent of the total internet bandwidth. But are you getting what you want in the way of entertainment?
Viewers have the same complaints about Netflix that they have had about cable TV. There are so many choices, but it can be tough to find something you really want to watch. I have spent what seemed like an eternity watching my mother scroll through new releases and “Popular on Netflix” and “Trending Now” to find a show that we all could agree to watch. Netflix did not make the selection process any easier when it eliminated user reviews last August.
You can rely on the service’s algorithm that assigns a percentage to indicate how good a match a show is to your viewing tastes based on previous things you’ve watched, but that won’t broaden your menu. For instance, if you have watched mostly adventure shows in the past, you’ll see more of those on your home screen as recommendations and similar shows will receive a higher match score than say a romantic comedy. But what if you’re in the mood for a great romcom?
Because Netflix runs in a browser, you can add free enhancements to the service with browser add-ons, also called extensions. Google Chrome has the widest variety of these, which are available in the Chrome Web Store. To add one or more, find the extension you want in the store and simply click “Add to Chrome.” But before you do, check the number of users (should be at least over 1,000), the star rating (I opt for a 4-star minimum) and when it was last updated. If an update hasn’t been made within the year, skip it. Extensions are as easy to remove as they are to install, so if you decide you don’t like one, just go to Chrome settings, more tools, extensions and click the remove button. Note that extensions are only available when watching Netflix on your computer; similar apps such as WatchFlix are available for your phone.
To put the ratings back into Netflix, install IMDb for Netflix. Once installed, all you have to do is hover over a Netflix selection and you will see the IMDb rating in the upper corner. Switching to the classic version (right click the small NF icon in your browser bar to change styles) will also show you the number of votes the show received on IMDb. For more information, hover over the rating and watch for a small pop-up box with Metacritic and Rotten Tomato ratings when available, genre, country of origin and any awards the show received. Click and the associated IMDb page will open with trailers, cast and more information.
Another extension to try is FindFlix, which will grant you easy access to thousands of genres not immediately visible on Netflix. For instance, searching for Military on Netflix, results in 10 categories, but try that with FindFlix and you’ll see 69, including military movies based on a book from the 1950s. If you know what you want, this is the way to find it.
There are other ways to improve your Netflix browsing experience—or at least shorten the time it takes to find something good to watch. Instead of starting with the Netflix interface, start with a search on Reelgood’s Netflix Roulette, an easy-to-use website that allows you to set a few parameters like genre, movie, TV show or both, and minimum Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb scores. Keep “spinning” until you find a show you’d like to watch. Reelgood also lets you search just about every streaming service available, including cable TV, making it a truly universal guide to digital entertainment. Best of all, it’s free.