Netflix Reality
Apr 2020
Envisioning the Evolution of Social Streaming
Enabling a virtual social environment to forge relationships amid a global pandemic and beyond.
Problem & OpportunitySolutionMedia PresenceApple GlassesrealityOSProcessStrategyDesignReflection
Intent:
User Participation Platforms
Role:
VR, UI/UX, Dev, Strategy
Tech:
Unity, Cinema 4D, Autodesk Maya, Substance Painter, Adobe CC, C#
Duration:
4 weeks
Covid-19 has altered consumer behavior and changed market conditions. Specifically, it has opened new doors in how people consume media. In lieu of being able to congregate in person, many people have turned to a digital avenues to satisfy their social needs. There exists the opportunity to develop platform features that can serve these needs that may also be extensible beyond a Covid-19 time. An interesting market that streaming can seek to parallel is that of digital gaming and how it evolved beyond a mainly single player endeavor to allowing people from all over the world to do things together in an online environment.
The Problem
How can consumers have engaging social experiences with each other, regardless of the distance that separates them?
After examining how consumer behaviors have changed in this Covid 19 world, we found that, unsurprisingly, social behaviors have been impacted the most. Social distancing due to Covid 19 has changed how we interact with people when we can’t be in close proximity to them.
But what people often don’t realize is that social distancing has always existed and will continue to exist in a post-Covid world. Barriers to physical proximity have always been there whether it be voluntary or involuntary. How often have you wished you could hang out with a best friend who moved away? Or managed a long distance relationship with a partner hundreds of miles away? Ultimately, the problem is finding ways to allow people to have engaging social experiences regardless of distance, not only now, but in a post-Covid time as well.
Within this core problem we identified three essential user needs:
  1. Digital social interactions don’t feel real.
    There is still a major stigma with building digital/online relationships in that the social interactions don’t really seem real. People noted that online friends aren’t considered real friends because they’ve never met in real life.
  2. Building organic relationships virtually can be difficult.
    People noted that sometimes building relationships through online means was hard to do organically because it often involved a lot of small talk initially and always felt forced.
  3. In-person hangouts can be difficult to manage due to time and location constraints.
    There’s a convenience factor In allowing people to experience highly engaging social interactions from the comfort of their own home.
The opportunity
TV viewing is social, with 93% of people engaging in some co-viewing activity on the big screen.
Source: IAB - The OTT Co-Viewing Experience 2017
Video streaming is a highly popular but traditionally singular and largely transactional activity. It has mostly remained unchanged for a decade now. You go online, select a movie/tv show, find a comfortable place to sit, and in an hour or so, the activity is over, transaction completed. Your life has remained unchanged.
However, recently, the phenomenon of co-watching has started to gain some steam. Co-watching, also referred to as co-viewing, is described as watching a tv show or movie together with someone at the same time either in the same place or remotely. Apps like Netflix Party, Zoom, and FaceTime have become especially popular during these times to watch things together.
What if there were a way to build on this co-watching aspect to change people’s streaming behaviors to be even more impactful? What if there was a way to evolve streaming into a more relational and social activity that could be done without any distance barriers?
If we anticipate how streaming can evolve 5-10 years in the future, we believe that online video streaming can follow a similar path as another activity that used to be a mostly singular endeavor but has now rapidly evolved into a social phenomenon: video gaming.
In the early days, video gaming was mostly something that you would do either by yourself or together with friends in your immediate proximity. But as the internet became more and more prevalent, online gaming evolved into a highly social activity that you could do with people from all around the world, regardless of where you were and even develop real life friendships.
Business value
Tapping into the co-watching market is highly lucrative.
From a business value perspective, tapping into the co-watching market is highly lucrative. Since co-watching inherently reaches more users, Netflix is able to leverage this increased viewership by generating additional ad revenue. In addition, with 5G introduction, hosting content servers over the cloud not only becomes more efficient, but also significantly lowers operating and development costs.
Additionally, Netflix is the most popular and widely used video streaming service with nearly 170 million users in over 190 countries. They have a vast content library with 47,000 TV shows and 4000 movies. Netflix' vision statement is “becoming the best global entertainment distribution service” and this positions them well to be the company that encompasses all aspects of the user journey and continues to innovate the video streaming segment.
Business Strategy
  1. Corner the co-watching market and future-proof the product experience.
    Co-viewing is not going away. Netflix as a video streaming market leader is well positioned to be at the forefront of this trend and take control of this market by utilizing emerging technologies to ensure that they are future-proofing their product experience to remain ahead of competitors.
  2. Turn video streaming into a more relational experience by using new technologies.
    Turn video streaming into a more dynamic and social experience that parallels real life social experiences where real and meaningful relationships can be created.
Introducing netflix reality
Netflix Reality is a Virtual Reality feature that creates more immersive and social streaming experiences.
Netflix Reality is a new feature that we envision as part of the Netflix product experience 5-10 years from now. It utilizes Virtual Reality technology to create a more immersive and realistic streaming experience in which more dynamic and engaging social interactions can take place.
Netflix Theater
A fully immersive virtual theater experience where users can watch, chat, and socialize with people from all over the world.
Netflix theater is a virtual movie theater that enables you to watch selected movies and tv shows in an immersive and realistic theater environment with other Netflix users. Thus, you can meet and make friends with people from all over the world.
Netflix Hangouts
Hangout with Everyone or Just Your Close Friends.
Have a nice conversation with your friends before the movie starts or easily make new friends who have shared interest.
personalized
Discover the Best Entertainment
Check out public showings with everyone or join a private room with just you and the people you care about.
Fun
Grab Some
Virtual Popcorn
Enjoy a nice virtual snack while watching your favorite movies and TV series.
look and feel
Customize Your Virtual Avatar
Look just as you envision your virtual self, with many looks and styles to choose from.
home theater
Enjoy Your Favorite Movies on the
Big Screen
Enjoy the big movie screen from the comfort of your home. Plus, enjoy new 3D movies in the Netflix library.
handoff
Setup on Desktop,
Handoff in VR
You can choose to discover showings on your 2D experience and seamlessly hand it off to VR.
Onboarding and Handoff
Pickup where you left off.
Easily handoff the experience as a seamless connection between desktop and VR. Never used VR? No problem, onboarding has got you covered.
Comfort of use
Comfortably Explore.
Freely explore through teleport locomotion and never worry about getting motion sick.
User Needs & Value Add
How does Netflix Reality offers a value add over traditional 2D co-watching experiences?
First there is still a major stigma with building digital/online relationships in that the social interactions don’t really seem real. People noted that online friends aren’t considered real friends because they’ve never met in real life. VR can help bridge that gap by allowing users to interact in more immersive environments that parallel real life experiences
Second, people noted that sometimes building relationships through online means was hard to do organically because it often involved a lot of small talk initially and always felt forced. Allowing people to have shared experiences through co-watching an intense action scene in a movie or a trashy reality show already establishes a common bond that relationships can build off of.
Finally, there’s a convenience factor In allowing people to experience highly engaging social interactions from the comfort of their own home. And anyone, anywhere can join, eliminating any distance barriers.
The Process
In the following, I will thoroughly explain the process of arriving at our final solution. Alongside, I will give explanations about our decision-making for several critical design decisions. While the process is explained chronologically, some of the components including but not limited to designing, prototyping, and testing have been carried out iteratively.
Strategy
Understanding and Discovery
To holistically understand the problem and consumer demand/unmet needs, we conducted primary and secondary research, and held focus groups where we examined current market trends, consumer value drivers, competitive threats.
Secondary Research
As part of the secondary research, we asked ourselves several critical questions, which discussed in the following.
Is there evidence for a consumer demand/unmet need?
Third party extensions such as Netflix Party, Scener, exist and are very well received and have been very popular during this time.
    "How many people go to the movies alone? Or a music concert? Entertainment has always been a social activity, and given the option, people choose to enjoy it together."
    – Michael Pazaratz, CEO of Rave (Social Media App)
    Co-viewing is a social phenomenon that is catching on fast, it is surprising that Netflix does that have an internal feature that can address this.
    1. In MRI’s latest Cord Evaluation research (2019), 60% of those in the 18-to-34 age group say they are co-viewing more often now than they did three years ago. (Source)
    2. TV viewing is social, with 93% of people engaging in some co-viewing activity on the big screen. (Source)
    3. Co-viewing on OTT tends to occur among younger viewers, in larger households, and with strong brand-engagement. (Source)
    Does Netflix have a social component to it now? If not, why?
      1. No, Netflix does not currently have any social component to the site, other than a very basic sharing function. There seems to be a reluctance to implement social features because Netflix user research has shown that consumers may not want to share everything with the world, they still value their privacy and anonymity and not have a function to see what your friend watched. (Source)
      2. Netflix did have a friends feature way back in the early inception of the company but they killed it off in 2010 citing low usage numbers. The Friends feature was mostly seeing what your friends were watching, how they rated it, a discovery hub based on what your friends are watching, following feature, and private messaging. Prioritized facebook integration (Source)
      What value add would a social component give Netflix? How does this component integrate into Netflix’s existing core product offerings?
        1. Co-viewing is not going away. Netflix has the opportunity to take ownership of a market that already exists and position themselves to be future leaders in the segment and take advantage of emerging technologies such as VR.
        2. Netflix already acknowledges that co-watching is a significant aspect of their experience. So much so that they introduced a co-watching “contract” (Source)
        3. Above just taking control of a co-viewing experience, Netflix can expand upon that as well by moving into a matchmaking feature that enables users to meet new people who may have shared viewing interests. These can exist in the form of virtual theaters.
        4. Why do people go to movie theaters still? The experience is definitely different in terms of screen and audio quality but also there is a social aspect to it as well. There exists the opportunity to capture this experience more realistically with VR technologies. It gives people the option to discuss movies with fans in a forum like setting.
        5. Hanging in the lobby is a significant part of the theater experience. (Source)
        6. Evidence suggests viewers tend to enjoy watching films in community with others, making movie theaters a prime medium for this type of interaction. (Source)
        7. There are many more aspects that make a movie-going experience more fun when it’s in a theater than just at home. Netflix can seek to capture that market. (Source)
        How did relationship building features evolve in online gaming and how/why can streaming look to emulate that success?
          1. OTT services are well positioned to go beyond a singular activity and be the next social revolution much like online gaming.
          2. Online games have been doing this for a little bit now. Online streaming services have the opportunity to take advantage of this with the advent of VR (Source, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4)
          Why is Netflix specifically well-positioned to implement a social feature?
            1. Netflix has an expansive library (47,000 TV shows and over 4,000 movies). Additionally, Netflix is global, 190 countries can stream, and it has 167 million subscribers as well as commands the largest segment of OTT market share. (Source)
            2. Netflix vision statement, “becoming the best global entertainment distribution service”, strives to encompass all aspects of the user journey and to be the best they can be. (Source)
            Do competitor streaming sites offer a social feature? What do/don’t they do well? What has contributed/limited their success?
              1. No major OTT competitor offers a proprietary covering feature. Netflix is a market leader.
              What is the business value add from the addition of a social component? How does this either increase brand equity or increase revenue generation?
                1. Increased ad revenue streams, reaching more users. (Source, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4)
                How much would it cost Netflix to implement such a feature? Is this within Netflix’s financial capacity to invest in this?
                1. While it is hard to give an accurate estimate, hosting content servers over the cloud generally not only becomes more efficient, but also significantly lowers operating and development costs. (Source, Source 2, Source 3)
                2. Netflix' content infrastructure is already existing which makes up for most of the online resources needed. (Source, Source 2)
                Primary Research
                To further understand the core problem, we conducted primary research in the form of a survey and focus groups.
                Core Behaviors to Understand
                1. How frequently do people make new friends?
                2. How do people generally go about making new friends or meeting new people? What is the process?
                3. What are the important factors that people seek out when they are making identifying people who could be new friends?
                4. Is it difficult to make new friends? What are some challenges?
                5. Are people open to meeting people/making new friends through online interactions?
                6. Do people use online meeting apps and if so, what was their experience?
                7. Do people consider video streaming to be a social activity?
                8. Compare and contrast streaming vs watching in movie theaters? Pros and cons to each?
                9. How many people have co-watched a movie/TV show with someone else? Long distance?
                10. How often do you use Netflix?
                11. Thoughts on meeting new people and building friendships through Netflix? Profile?
                Focus Groups
                We held 5 focus groups comprised of the following demographics (n = number of participants, equal number of male and female participants):
                1. Group 0 (n=2): CLASS
                  Mid 20s
                2. Group 1 (n=4): HS
                  Late 20s
                3. Group 2 (n=8): MED
                  Mid-Late 20s
                4. Group 3(n=8): COL
                  Late 20s
                5. Group 4(n=8): MED2
                  Mid-Late 20s
                Focus Groups Consolidated Insights
                1. The genre or type of TV show/movie heavily dictates whether or not whether users would want to have social interactions during viewing. Comedy and Reality TV were a few genres that favored social interaction. In addition, Premieres of TV shows/movies could be seen as potential virtual experiences.
                2. Users would still tend to prefer to build relationships more organically and through shared interest groups. However, users acknowledged that if they were not in a position to do so they would be more inclined to do so via digital means. The feature would be more useful for younger age groups that don’t have as entrenched friend groups and are still in the process of establishing friend groups.
                3. Making the virtual experience as realistic as possible in terms of a physical social setting is very important in keeping users engaged. Robust filter features would be needed as well as low barriers to entry in the design.
                Survey Consolidated Insights
                Below, consolidated insights of the survey we conducted are shown. The survey received 73 responses.
                1. While some respondents have made friends through online services such as video gaming or meetup, most have not due to limited means of communication and/or interaction
                2. According to respondents, there exists the opportunity to turn video streaming into a social activity.
                3. About 50% of respondents have engaged in co-watching with someone who wasn't physically near them.
                Affinity Mapping
                We used affinity mapping to organize all research findings and determine areas of opportunity. Below you can see the consolidated affinity map in a digital format.
                Opportunity
                After organizing the research, we determined the following areas of opportunity:
                1. Make streaming behavior more immersive and impactful through social virtual environments.
                2. Turn streaming into a more relational experience where users maintain existing relationships and build new ones without any distance barriers.
                Defining the Strategy
                After determining areas of opportunity and after conducting all secondary and primary research, we finalized our business strategy, as shown earlier.
                1. Corner the co-watching market and future-proof the product experience.
                  Co-viewing is not going away. Netflix as a video streaming market leader is well positioned to be at the forefront of this trend and take control of this market by utilizing emerging technologies to ensure that they are future-proofing their product experience to remain ahead of competitors.
                2. Turn video streaming into a more relational experience by using new technologies.
                  Turn video streaming into a more dynamic and social experience that parallels real life social experiences where real and meaningful relationships can be created.
                Design, Prototype, Test
                Building the User Experience
                In order to design the user experience, we went through countless iterations and prototypes until arriving at the final solution.
                Personas
                To better understand the users we design for, we created a persona of our potential target audience.
                Feature Brainstorming
                After having a clear picture of the target audience we design for, we brainstormed what features need to be in place that help users achieve their goals and eliminate pain points. The outcome is as follows:
                1. Onboarding
                2. Inviting friends
                3. Scheduling movies and series
                4. Finding showings based on taste
                5. Public theaters accessible by everyone just like a real theater
                6. Private rooms accessible by just the people the host has invited to limit co-watching to friends only
                7. Virtual popcorn to make watching more fun
                8. Customizable avatars
                Determining Core Features
                Core features of the experience are the following.
                Building the VR Experience
                The VR experience was built taking into account the core features of the experience. Steps to get to the final product include modeling, compositing, texturing, adding details, and more.
                Modeling and Compositing the Environment in Autodesk Maya
                Below you can see screenshots of the modeling, UV-ing, and initial compositing process in Autodesk Maya, before the assets were exported, textured, and brought over to Unity.
                Texturing Assets in Substance Painter
                Once the scene is composited and models are UV'ed, selected assets were textured in Substance Painter.
                Setting up the Composition in Unity
                Once all models are textured, they are ready to be placed in the final scene in Unity 3D. Below you can see screenshots of the final scene.
                Building the Menu
                To build the menu in Unity, it was first designed in Figma. The final 2D designs are shown below.
                Adding Details
                For finishing touches, I added some details. Some examples are shown below, including grabbable popcorn whose physics are calculated in realtime as well as a branded controller.
                Designing and Prototyping the Desktop Experience
                To expose current Netflix subscribers to the new Netflix Reality experience, they can discover and schedule showings for the virtual theater from within the desktop experience, then easily hand it off to VR.
                Reflection
                I consider this project a key project in my endeavor to focus more on product design for emerging technology. Having learned coding early has been a huge advantage, especially for rapid prototyping in AR/VR and it reinforced once again that I am on the right track to focus on what I love best and can do best: design and prototyping. Through the recent acquisition of my very first Oculus VR headset, I was able to dive into the technology much deeper and I continue to be insatiable to explore further.
                In addition, having completed this project during a global pandemic once again showed me the need for this great technology and I can only see it become less niche and more ubiquitous as we continue to find out about the development of the new normal.
                Team
                Dominik Hofacker
                Experience Designer
                Dennis Liu
                Experience Designer