As highlighted by the New York Times, Netflix has a commanding lead in the streaming media space:

“Netflix made around $4.5 billion in profit over the last four quarters, while most of its competitors continued to lose money in streaming. It commands 247 million subscribers worldwide, more than double many other streaming services. It accounted for 7.4 percent of total television use in the United States in November, according to Nielsen, far outpacing Amazon Prime Video (3.4 percent), Hulu (2.7 percent) and Disney+ (1.9 percent).”

Certainly, things like exclusive and original content and brand partnerships play a role, but what subtle product feature has Netflix’s team found to be most indispensable in their ongoing success?


What are tags?

According to the NYT, tags are “two or three-word phrases, meant to convey the gestalt of a show or movie.”

“Grey’s Anatomy” is “soapy” and “emotional.” “Emily in Paris” is “campy” and “quirky.” “Our Planet II” is “relaxing” and “captivating,” while “Gravity” is “suspenseful” and “visually striking.”

As a user browses, these tags appear alongside the movie image tiles and synopsis and provide another mini-preview to the user about the content of the show or movie:

Who would watch a show about nothing, right? 😅

The Netflix team emphasized that these tags are a critical tool to induce viewers to click play and a key to their dominance.

“[...] Tags have persisted since Netflix’s DVD days,” said Eunice Kim, Netflix’s chief product officer. The team also commented that, each time they have removed tags altogether as an experiment, “engagement plummeted.”

Why do tags work?

Netflix currently has over 2.2 million minutes of content currently available—that’s just over four years of continuous content if you were to watch it all in one sitting (...In other words, all Netflix. No “chill”).

And, as any eCommerce company can tell you, the larger the product selection you have, the harder it is for your users to make a decision. 

In fact, the Netflix “doomscroll” has been a running gag joke on social media since the inception of Netflix’s streaming service:

Anything Netflix can do to make their user experience more streamlined—and less frustrating—is almost guaranteed to help them succeed.

Through years of testing, the article highlights, Netflix executives know these tools have essentially less than a minute to work. “On average, if you haven’t gotten someone to hit play within 53 seconds, the likelihood goes down precipitously [that the person will watch anything],” Kim said.

“[Without tags,] people would take much longer to choose,” added Allan Donald, a director of product at Netflix. “They would drop out of a title because they didn’t like it too much or because they didn’t know what they were getting.” 

Donald believes that the brief description provided by these tags could provide the make-it-or-break-it moment for a viewer at home.

“If you’re on the fence with a title and you’re like, ‘OK, the box art looks catchy, and it’s popular, so everyone’s watching it — but is it for me?’” he said. “And then you’re like, ‘OK, it’s suspenseful — yes, this is for me.’ That’s what made you go click.”

Why don’t Netflix’s competitors use tags for their titles?

We can’t really answer the question without speculating, but Kim believes that Netflix’s competitors are going for a more minimalist approach.

“We’ve been around longer, so we probably have just done more experimentation to learn what works for our members,” she said.

That said, creating and maintaining these tags doesn’t come without effort.

Netflix has a team of 30 dedicated “taggers” who currently manage a library of over 3,000 tags. In addition to tagging new content, the team periodically reviews the current tags to ensure they’re still effective, exciting, and not redundant.

As the article highlights: “Most rival streaming services [...] don’t have the same financial resources to support a group of employees to do all the work behind them.”

It just goes to show that sometimes, the most impactful features don’t come without effort. It’s a decision companies have to make.

How can you implement tags in your product?

Sure, you can add brief descriptions of your products and media to your UI, but this is table stakes.

In addition to user-facing applications, Netflix also uses these tags to help populate the theme rows of titles on the service (like “Goofy TV Shows” and “Girls' Night In”), and you can bet they’re using these tags as inputs to their recommender system to drive their personalization engine.

After all, tags on the UI are only effective if users are actually looking at your UI (and, as Business of Apps found, only one-quarter of your users ever come back to your app after their first use. Three-quarters of them churn). 

You need to mobilize these tags more effectively in your user messaging if you want any hope of these 75% of users coming back.

This is similar to the approach we take at Aampe

Most marketing teams write out their customer engagement messaging in spreadsheets.

Each message is sent out one time or built into a relatively static user sequence.

There’s no tagging.

There’s no learning (aside from general click rates tied to each message, which you can’t really use effectively to drive positive change.)

In Aampe, we break each message down into components, similar to Netflix’s tags:

Then, just like there are many different types of horror movies, we create alternates for each component.

So, “Ordering made easy” would be tagged with “Convenience,” while “Explore global menus” would be tagged with “exploration.”

Observing an individual user’s responses to each of these message components is like observing their viewing history and allows Aampe, similar to Netflix, to recommend the next message that should be sent.

We can also provide advanced analytics on each of the different labels/motivations out of the box, helping businesses make better decisions:

Which labels are driving the most clicks? Which are driving the most conversions?

How are the variants for the “Novelty” label performing?

Tags are one of the most critical keys to Netflix’s success

…and they can be one of yours, too!

Reach out today, and our team will show you how easy it is to get started with hyper-personalized messaging today.