Netflix tests biggest TV app redesign in 10 years

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -Netflix started rolling out the first major revamp of its television app in a decade on Thursday, testing changes designed to help viewers more quickly decide what they want to watch.

The video streaming pioneer wants to increase the time that viewers spend on the app to help retain customers and draw subscribers to its new, lower cost plans with advertising.

Company research showed users were performing what Netflix executive Pat Flemming called "eye gymnastics", or looking around to various parts of the Netflix home screen, when trying to find a title that interested them.

Viewers' eyes were darting around from "the row name to today's top picks, to the box art, to the video, back to the synopsis," Flemming, senior director of member product, told Reuters in an interview. "We really wanted to make that simpler, more intuitive, everything easier to navigate."

Revisions to the home page included enlarging title cards, reorganizing information and highlighting easy-to-read tidbits such as a show or movie "spent 8 weeks in the top 10".

A subset of Netflix's nearly 270 million users around the globe will see the new format starting Thursday. The company will take feedback, and possibly make changes, before unveiling it more widely.

Netflix has been emphasizing engagement time as a key metric, telling investors it is the "best proxy for customer satisfaction". The company will stop regular reporting of subscriber numbers next year to shift Wall Street's focus.

Among other changes to the TV app, the menu button was moved from the left to the top of the screen. A new "My Netflix" tab was added, with shows or movies a user has started watching, or ones saved to check out later.

Netflix will continue to offer personalized suggestions to each user. It is not making any changes to its recommendation algorithm as part of the redesign, Flemming said.

Shares of Netflix, which have risen 38% this year, were down about 0.5% to $647.49 in afternoon trading on Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Rashmi Aich)