The wide range of next episode UI

How we get from one TV episode to the next on your streaming service of choice requires finesse. The right design pattern saves time through less menu navigation once you reach the end of an episode. But too aggressive of a yank to the next show generates a hurried feel, giving you barely a breath to process what you watched before zooming off to the next show.

The services I subscribe to today – Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus – take different approaches to this next episode design challenge. All but Disney Plus have an algorithm that detects when you’ve finished an episode, generally the moment the closing credits begin to roll. At that point, UI appears to suggest moving on to the next show. This feature ensures I get the correct episode when I pick back up the series later.

Disney has no next episode detection and no corresponding UI at the episode’s natural endpoint. Continuing the “latest” episode of a show usually drops me midway through the previous episode’s credits. The net effect means I have to manually browse to get to the next episode.

Netflix is consistently the brashest of the group. What feels like barely a millisecond after an episode ends, a show’s credits get shoved into a small corner with a full page takeover for the next episode or recommended show.

Amazon Prime is more subtle, with a small box highlighting the next episode that appears in the bottom right corner of the screen. However, like Netflix, Amazon uses aggressive timing to move you on. It’s rarely more than a few seconds before you automatically start the next episode, and I’ve noticed that the UI often pops up a few moments before the credits start. Depending on the show, this can annoyingly give away a sudden ending you otherwise aren’t expecting.

Apple uses a gentle approach to introduce the next episode: a box fades into the bottom center of the frame with a lengthy autoplay countdown. I like this design the most. It’s an easy way to jump to the next episode that doesn’t jettison artistic intent in the process by yanking the viewer away from the credits the moment a show’s over.

My opinions aside, the variety of design approaches across services is fascinating. Streaming services have had years to experiment with ways to pull users from episode to episode, to the point you’d expect analytics and A/B testing to push everyone into a more uniform direction. To boot, almost every service I use is going after the same broad, four quadrant audience.

So at this point, I attribute the design differences down to company values and image. Netflix and Amazon are tech companies that think of themselves as Silicon Valley “disrupters” to the status quo. That origin makes full screen takeovers or quick bumps into the next show understandable. If analytics prove a hard push into the next episode gets better engagement, to these companies it’s worth it, artist integrity be damned.

In contrast, while Apple is, of course, a tech company, it’s one known for its design aspirations, along with its close ties to artists and media. That explains the more subtle, elegant tact they use to pull users into another episode.

Disney is the only media company of the group and sparsely uses next episode UI. Given their film and TV roots, you can see Disney’s interest in preserving artistic intent at all costs. They’ve made the calculus that popups and disruptions to the viewing experience are an unnecessary distraction. On a practical level, Disney sometimes wants you to stick around for the credits; Marvel movies are famous for their post credits teasers and stingers. Disney’s minimalist approach also subtly speaks to a sense of confidence with its properties. Because you’re already watching brands like Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar, perhaps they view direct prompts to move on as unnecessary.

However, I expect Disney Plus to migrate to a more interventionist tact like other options over time. As streaming services mature and competition heats up with new, well funded options (HBO Max, Peacock, Paramount Plus) eager to gain traction, I bet every service will be increasingly aggressive in how they serve up next and otherwise recommended episodes. A tiny bump in engagement magnified over millions of subscribers can make a huge difference to a streamer’s bottom line.