Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Doesn't Netflix Care About Kids?

We have been Netflix subscribers for a few years now and we love it. Netflix Watch Instantly is one of the coolest technologies that has revolutionized home entertainment. Streaming TV episodes and movies in HD on demand for $9/month is truly awesome and for many people completely replaces cable television service. Netflix is very active in their development and improvement of their infrastructure and is fairly transparent about their strategic technology choices.

But one complaint we've had for a couple years has seemed to fall on deaf ears.
We stream Netflix movies from our PlayStation 3 and from our laptops for our kids almost every day. My wife and I frequently watch Netflix movies and TV episodes a couple of times a week. Most of the time, we have our Netflix parental control settings set to "Unrated Family and below" to keep our kids from watching anything that isn't kid-friendly. Whenever the grown-ups want to watch a movie that isn't allowed on this current setting, we have to navigate to our account settings and change it to a higher rating setting, and then change it back to "Unrated Family and below" when we're done. Yes, this is a minor inconvenience, but I'm willing to do it to keep our kids safe. The only problem with this scenario is that it can take up to 8 hours for the parental control settings to hit the PS3. So if my wife and I want to watch a documentary that is not rated, we must change the parental control settings to "All Movies," and remember to change it back to "Unrated Family and below" when we're finished. If we forget to change the setting back, our kids could see all sorts of unsavory movie covers that can be pretty inappropriate, especially for little children.

A much more elegant solution would be to have a Netflix streaming sub-account for the children, and another one for the grown-ups, each with their respective parental control settings.  Ideally, the Netflix application on the PS3 would default to the children's account, but if the parents wanted to watch a movie or see their separate queue and movie recommendations, there would be an easy to use setting that would allow a quick account change protected with a password (none of this waiting around for 8 hours for the changes to take place). Curiously, Netflix does currently support sub-accounts, but they only work for a physical DVD queue, and not for Netflix Watch Instantly. This would provide the additional benefit of having separate movie recommendations, instead of me logging in to watch a movie and seeing "Harry and the Henderson's" as a recommended movie:

We have called and explained to Netflix customer service representatives several times over the last couple of years that we would love to see this feature, and they very kindly have told us that they will submit it as a feature request. When I recently asked about this feature, I was told that a majority of Netflix customers must also request this feature before Netflix will consider implementing it (which makes sense from a business standpoint). Technically, I suppose that I could accomplish my objective by paying for a second Netflix subscription (one for me and my wife, and one for the kids), but I shouldn't have to subscribe twice.

Aside from protecting children from seeing non-kid-friendly movies (even many movie cover photos can be pretty inappropriate), this seems like an intuitive feature change that would benefit all Netflix subscribers with different household queues and recommendations. Does one Netflix Watch Instantly queue fit your family's needs? Until enough customers complain about it, apparently Netflix isn't very motivated to make this much needed change.


  1. Netflix-
    I'm ready to cancel just to protect my kiddos from seeing those nasty movie covers. Seriously, how difficult can it be to only show the movies that are allowed under the control setting? Step up to a higher standard.

  2. I'd like the option to set a default rating level for browsing, and the option to enter a parental unlock code. This seems even easier to implement than a parent/child subaccount and modifications to their streaming clients would be minimal. TV tuners do this so it seems pretty reasonable to expect Netflix to do this.

    Many movie covers are gruesome, fortunately our kids don't go browsing much beyond the family and kids section and search. Our biggest problem has been keeping the kids from watching Fred, which is the worst thing ever made.

    PS What do you have against Harry and the Hendersons??

  3. Great comments! Brad, I like your suggestion of the parental unlock code--quick and easy for a temporary unlock. Fred! Ha ha! Okay, so Harry and the Hendersons isn't that bad, I guess.

  4. Oh yes, I so agree with you. Not only do I not necessarily want to make my movie choices visible to my kids but it also messes up the way netflix suggests movies to me. I used to be able to discover all kinds of amazing movies based on my previous rentals and ratings, which is now totally shot to hell since we share our account with two teenagers and an 8 year old. Ugh!

  5. I want to know why it takes so long for the changes to take place? I mean that is just ridiculous. My cue can show an update instantly.

    Thing is, it doesn't take the same time on all machines. I have a Wii, Tivo, and Xbox 360. The Tivo takes a while, the Wii gets the change instantly, and until recently, so did the Xbox. Now the Xbox takes all night to get the content rating update. What changed?

    This is just frustrating, and certainly something that shouldn't take too much to remedy.

    I like the idea of a passcode.

    My Xbox has rating controls, but I must also block UR and NR because the Xbox is too stupid to tell the difference between a UR Bob the Builder and a UR adult show.

    The Netflix filter does seem to figure out most of those, although I have found a few UR family titles it still blocks, but mostly it only lets the family UR NR titles through while mostly only blocking adult UR NR titles.

  6. Great article, as it helped me to figure out how to protect one application (Netflix) of my Google TV device.

    Until there is enough support for this feature and Netflix has time to develop it, I actually believe that the multiple accounts is an acceptable solution.

    Another benefit one will get from paying for multiple accounts is that you can rate what your child's choice of rating is, and separately share your own personal ratings, so you'll theoretically have suggested movies customized for your child, and suggested movies customized for yourself. I love this idea.

    With the rise of internet TV devices, I hope that additional parental control features will gain a lot of support very fast. I recommend that you contact your Congressman about potential legislation to protect our children.

  7. @Mitch, Yeah but having to pay twice by ordering another subscription just to adjust some preferences that should already be a feature of the core product is pretty lame. Thoughts?

  8. Great article....I've been feeling this way ever since we signed up for Netflix. This seems like such a no-brainer I can't imagine why they have not implemented something to address it.

    How can we get their attention? I think with the power of Facebook and similar networking sights that a campaign should be launched to petition Netflix to do something about this.

    Thoughts anyone?

  9. Indeed! The more we make our voices heard, the more likely Netflix is to implement family-friendly features/controls. Write letters, call customer service regularly and let them know!

  10. PLEASE SHELTER MY KIDS TOO! I want a barrier of religion & non-altercation to protect them with! When I send them out into the real world I want them to be as blind as possible, I want them to be confused, I want sink into the hole we call a society... Oh wait I can just opt out allowing them do watch Netflix? Nah I want to start a forum about it instead...

  11. Dear Anonymous,

    I think the issue here is that Netflix needs to make a fairly simple technical modification to their service, which would separate the parents' viewing privileges, profile and recommendations from those of any younger children in the family. I know this is something that many families who use Netflix would love to see.

  12. Just saw this on Consumerist today. Apparently Netflix is recommending a documentary on porn in one Netflix customer's kid's recommendations. FAIL!: http://consumerist.com/2011/06/netflix-suggests-that-your-child-watch-a-very-educational-documentary-about-porn.html

  13. Hey Brian,

    Thanks so much for your article. I'm a newer subscriber to Netflix and starting to encounter the problems you have been blogging about.

    I also hate that my kids can scroll movie covers that are sexual and horror based.

    I'm working on an open letter to Netflix for our Porn to Purity blog and your article has been helpful in my research.

    Jeff Fisher

  14. So.... Price hike x incompatible Parental Controls x New Competiton = me walking

  15. I want to do something slightly different. Fortunately my children are not (yet) interested in porn or violence. They are, however, interested in crap. I want to shelter my kids from "care bears." I can't stand the aesthetic pollution that is poisoning their souls. I wish I could eliminate the "care bears" from the outside world altogether, but barring that I would like to blacklist it from our netflix account so it's not a daily fight. I just want them to not see "care bears," or similarly offensive material such as "strawberry shortcake" and "barney" as tempting options. I can go through hoops such as diligently "hating" everything matching certain search terms on netflix and flushing my recently watched queue by playing a few minutes of a ton of random movies but this is a tedious process, and my aesthetically stunted but technically precocious elder daughter has figured out how to use search.


  16. Personally we try not to watch much that we wouldn't want our daughter watching, but usually she is not interested in anything non-animated (she's 3). We do love watching documentaries which are often 'not-rated' which they lump into the Rated R and up categories. To watch these we have to have the "All Movies" setting on. Then my daughter keeps selecting TV-MA anime crap that I do not like her watching. I wish I could block certain movies and have them removed from the "recently viewed" selections which she often browses and watches over and over.
    For those who feel we are overprotective of our children, that's crap.
    This is my HOME. I should be able to choose what is viewed in my home. Having this stuff available and accessible is like saying I approve of it.
    Just like we protect our medicine cabinets we protect our media. We are parents and it's our responsibility to protect our children. We may like netflix and anonymous thinks we should just opt out letting our children watch netflix. They know how to use technology and to turn everything on. Some things are not age appropriate.
    I'm all for the parental code option. She can browse through all unRated family options and below. For anything else she can ask me to enter my password if I see that it's something I approve of her watching.

  17. @BeccaB, I totally agree. Just type in a PIN or a password whenever you want to override the parental control settings on a movie-by-movie basis. That type of solution would be perfect, and seems like a simple change to implement.

  18. Netflix has made it impossible to use a single account for both kids and adults at the same time. Its obvious they have done this on purpose because they want you to pay for two accounts. There is no other explanation. I guess they don't realize that most people will cancel the service out of frustration before they sign up for a second account.

  19. We just got rid of cable, and I was wondering about getting Netflix, but I was just looking up what type of parental controls they offered, and found your conversation. I think that this makes the decision for me- I don't want it as it is right now. I have teenagers in the house and this waiting hours for the settings to change is NOT going to work. Thanks for your site! I will check back periodically to see if Netflix has remedied this situation.

  20. Anonymous (1/11/12), Just to clarify, you only have to wait up to 8 hours on certain Netflix connected devices (such as the PS3). You might want to contact Netflix support to get a more definitive answer. What would you be using to watch Netflix? A Roku box, PC/Mac, or a Netflix-enabled TV? On my LG Netflix-enabled TV, my parental control settings change immediately, but I am required to change the settings on the web site on my computer (I can't do it on the TV, which would be nice).

  21. I was really annoyed, whilst trying to figure out Netflix's parental controls, by the "may take up to 8 hours" message. However, I've tested it out several times and on my Sony BDP-BX57 blu-ray player it happens instantly. Yay, Sony!

  22. Come on people, it's only an extra $9 a month to have the kids on their own account, is that really so bad? Cable TV costs like $80/month!