Why Just for Kids is such a big deal for Netflix

Netflix’s (s NFLX) Just for Kids user interface is coming to the Xbox, (s MSFT) the company announced Wednesday, making it possible for Netflix subscribers to browse through kids titles on their Xbox 360 without seeing any inappropriate content. That’s great news for any family household with an Xbox, but it also points to much bigger plans to further personalize your Netflix experience.

Just for Kids replaces the traditional Netflix catalog grid with a more playful user interface. TV shows can be discovered by character, and each and every episode can be previewed with an image — no reading skills necessary. Xbox users can decide whether they want to access Just for Kids or the regular Netflix UI every time they start the app, or switch to the kids UI at any point. Check out the new UI in this video provided by Netflix:


Just for Kids was first introduced on the web, and has since been rolled out to the PS3, (s SNE) the Wii, (s NTDOY) the Apple (s AAPL) TV, the Boxee Box and a whole bunch of other devices. It makes a lot of sense for Netflix, because kids content has proven to be extremely popular on the service — to the point where some wonder whether it is stealing away viewers from Nickelodeon.

Netflix’s big bet on personalization

But there’s more to it: Just for Kids also represents a first step towards a more tailored Netflix experience. Netflix has in the past put a lot of energy into personalization on the account level. It tracks every rating, every video played and pretty much everything else you’re doing on the service to recommend titles you might like.

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But if you have kids that watch a lot of Netflix, you’ll find that this system doesn’t really work. Sooner or later, all your recommendations are going to be about Hello Kitty, My Little Pony and Shaun the Sheep. The same is true for couples’ households, where Netflix can have a hard time recommending things that matter to both partners.

Netflix has said in the past that it wants to solve this problem by taking its personalization to the next level. Instead of just recommending titles based on your account, the company is considering the introduction of profiles for each and every family member in the household — complete with separate queues and recommendations. Netflix has said that it is going to test these kinds of profiles later this year.

Families are complicated

Why has it taken Netflix so long? Because this one is actually a tough problem to crack: To make personalization down to every member of the family work, users have to identify themselves when they’re watching, so Netflix knows whose behavior it is tracking. And that’s where Just for Kids comes in. Once a child has selected the separate UI, Netflix can also track its viewing separately and make sure that its titles don’t show up in its parent’s recently watched list.

But here’s the catch: The vast majority of Netflix viewing happens on TVs and connected devices these days, and chances are, there’s more than one person watching. Sometimes the whole family might want to watch a kids movie. Sometimes it’s just the kids by themselves. Sometimes you’re going to watch something together with your partner, while at other times you want to geek out on your own personal interests. Balancing this without making the experience too complicated is going to be a challenge for Netflix.

The good news is that Just for Kids might just be the first step to take on this challenge.