Thursday, May 26, 2011

Viewing Habits

Last night, for no apparent reason, I was moved to compile some numbers about my Netflix viewing over the last year. Don't ask why, this is just the sort of thing I sometimes feel compelled to do. While I was doing this, I realized that my neurotic Netflix methodology might make an interesting blog post (if by "interesting" I mean "of no interest at all to anyone other than me"). But seriously, I have some very bizarre viewing habits, and I thought it might be fun for me to share them with the ten or so people who regularly read this blog.

First, a few numbers:

In the last calendar year, I've rented 90 discs worth of films and 48 discs worth of TV series. These numbers are a little bit low for me, but not too bad when you factor in how uncertain living circumstances led me to stop renting discs for over five months during that span.

In addition, I've streamed 66 films from Netflix's Watch Instantly service over the last year. I've also streamed something in the neighborhood of 405 episodes of TV, which (assuming an average of 4 episodes per disc) comes down to about another 101 "discs" worth of content. All combined, this comes to roughly 305 "discs" watched over the last 365 days. Not too shabby for a down year!

After the jump, things will get REALLY nerdy, as I'm going to share with you my insane Queue management and organization habits. This should help explain the seemingly-random pattern of movies I watch and review here on the blog.

Now, I maintain OCD-level control over my Netflix queue. I like to know what I've got coming to me, and when, so that I can come as close as possible to my ideal schedule of one movie or disc of a TV series per day. To do this, I make use of a few aspects of Netflix's system—some widely known, others less so.

One valuable tool, as I mentioned in this post, is Netflix's "Profiles" feature. This lets you divide the total number of discs you rent across a few separate queues. This is typically used in family or roommate situations, so that everyone can manage their own queues and nobody holds anyone else up or hogs the rentals. For my purposes, however, I use the feature to maintain a separate queue for TV shows so that I don't have to juggle multi-disc seasons while still balancing a stagnation-free film queue. For most people, this wouldn't be a problem. But for me, with 485 movies in my film queue and 153 discs in my TV queue, things could get a little cluttered. For a while, now, I've been on the 3 disc plan. One of these is allocated to the TV queue, the other two go to the movie queue.

Speaking of the movie queue, that's where things get REALLY granular. For starters, I take advantage of the way that Netflix processes new releases to optimize my chances of getting them on their release date. Whenever an upcoming release jumps from the Saved section and into the queue itself, I send it to the top of the list. I then sort these titles in reverse chronological order by the release date (written in red) on the right of each film's entry. This keeps a healthy chunk of unavailable DVDs right at the top of the queue, which is crucial when it comes to getting new releases (as you'll see in a moment).

As each release date approaches, I try to set things up so that I'm returning a movie on the Saturday before the desired film is due. Why? Because discs that are returned on Saturday will typically be received on Monday, and Monday is the first day Netflix facilities will ship Tuesday releases (so that they don't break street date by arriving early). So my local Netflix distributor will receive my return on Monday, and the system will then scan my queue to decide what to send me next. At the top of the queue, hopefully, there are a handful of unavailable upcoming releases, which will make the system want to send me the highest-ranked disc that is currently available. I think the system also favors titles that sit at the top of the queue for long periods, as it always runs through several misses before finding a hit. Every bit helps, I guess, because nine times out of ten with this trick, they'll pick the newly-available movie, which arrives in my mailbox on the day of its release. This typically bypasses even the infamous "throttling" tactic Netflix uses, which biases the system against high-turnover accounts and sets longer delays on new releases and other high-demand titles for heavy renters (such as yours truly).

Below the new releases, I like to set up my next 30 or so upcoming rentals, which gives me something to look forward to! Plus, if I didn't plan this out, there's every chance in the world I'd end up getting like five three-hour silent French films in a row and returning them all unwatched after sitting on each disc for a month. So to avoid this sort of thing, I divide my ENTIRE QUEUE into three broad categories: foreign language, "modern" (comprising films from 1980 on), and classics. I then alternate picks from each category, in that order, until my next few weeks of rentals are all set.

But if you thought those broad categories were the limit of my obsessive organization, think again. Both the foreign and classic sections have subcategories. For the foreign movies, I've split things into "French-speaking" and "non–French speaking" sections, and alternate between the two when picking my upcoming foreign rentals. I do this because there seem to be far more desirable French films than any other language, and I want to keep some semblance of balance! Within classics, I've got things split between "the Golden Age," which covers silent Hollywood films through to 1960, and "New Hollywood," which contains movies from the transitional 60s and 70s. Again, I alternate between these two when selecting classic picks to bring to the "upcoming rental" section. The "modern" category has no subdivisions, though I do try to go back and forth between recently-added films and things that've been sitting in my queue for years.

Now, all of this sounds totally crazy, and it probably is, but it really only required a one-time effort to split all 400+ movies into those categories. The rest is simply maintenance, making sure that any discs I add to the queue get placed in the proper section at that time. Plus, with a 30-film backlog, I don't have to worry about funneling things to the top of the queue all that often, and quite enjoy doing it whenever I notice the backlog getting low.

And yes, before you ask, my Instant queue (some 437 items long) is just as obsessively organized. There, I split things into broad groups like TV, Documentary, Foreign, Classic, and Modern, and since numerical order isn't important in the instant world, each category has its own guidelines and subcategories to help me know where to find things when I want to watch them.

Also, yes, there is some overlap between my streaming and disc queues. I know that some movies will drop off of streaming before I have a chance to watch them, so I double-queue the high-priority ones and concentrate them at the bottom of each subsection so that I'm not tempted to waste a rental on something I could just as easily stream at any time. This adds an additional maintenance task, which requires me to scroll through my queue every once in a while and see what's been labeled as Coming Soon to streaming. I then drop these items down to just above those that are already streaming within each subcategory. That way, I know where they are and can add them to the streaming queue when they don't automatically add themselves.

There's also the complementary task of scrolling through the Instant queue and noting which items, if any, indicate their streaming end dates. For these, I make sure I've got any high-priority ones safely waiting in my DVD queue, and then try to watch as many as I can before they disappear.

Finally, within my separate TV queue, I tend to keep the organization and maintenance far lighter. There, I just plan things out in advance by the series, being sure to alternate any shows with long seasons (4+ disc/season) with shorter (1-3 disc/season) series of differing genres. This way, I almost never have to check in and can let this queue run itself.

So that's it. Those are my horribly OCD-inflected viewing habits. You can keep an eye on my queues and see how the pattern shakes out, as the top few entries from both the movie and TV queues appear in the sidebar here on the blog. This is as good a way as any to keep track of what I might be reviewing next (though streaming titles won't be shown here, so think of those as wildcards). Now, I doubt any of you are as crazy as I am with this stuff, but I'm curious to know if anyone has similar tics when it comes to organizing and maintaining their viewing schedule. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you do!

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