SAN FRANCISCO – Netflix is reprogramming the way its Internet video subscription service appears on millions of television screens in an attempt to hook viewers for even longer periods.
The makeover of Netflix's TV menu will start showing up Wednesday on televisions that connect to the Internet through recently released Blu-ray disc players, PlayStation and Xbox video game consoles and the Roku 3 set-top box.
Netflix's service will look the same on its applications for mobile devices and its website, as well as on TVs that rely on Apple TV and a variety of other gadgets that stream Internet video.
As has been the case for years, Netflix Inc.'s revamped TV menu will continue to highlight entertainment that the company's automated recommendation system picks based on each subscriber's viewing preferences.
But the new design includes more visual thumbnails and details about the recommendations, including a capsule explaining why a particular movie or TV series might appeal to the interests of each subscriber. A blurb about each episode in TV series also will be shown. If a subscriber has enabled their Netflix activity to be tied to Facebook's social network, the new format also will list friends who have previously watched the video.
"This is the biggest change to the Netflix experience on televisions in our history," said Neil Hunt, Netflix's chief product officer.
Netflix's move marks another step in the company's push to make its online streaming service as compelling as any of the channels on cable and satellite systems. Unlike those channels, which are bundled in subscription packages, Netflix Inc. pipes its service through high-speed Internet connections and sells it as a stand-alone option for $8 month.
The company's alternative approach is increasingly popular, helping Netflix attract 31 million U.S. subscribers -- an audience that just surpassed that of HBO's older pay-TV channel. HBO, owned by Time Warner Inc. still has a far larger global audience, with 114 million worldwide subscribers compared to 40 million for Netflix.
In a change from past updates, Netflix is simultaneously releasing its redesigned menu on multiple video-streaming devices. The new look will gradually roll out during the next two weeks to Netflix subscribers watching the service through Roku's latest player, newer Blu-ray players and Smart TVs and the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Xbox 360 video-game consoles. The Los Gatos, Calif. company is planning to introduce the new look on older Roku players and other streaming devices next year.
Although Netflix also works on computers and smartphones, TVs accounted for most of the 5 billion hours watched on the service during the three months ending in September. The total usage works out to an average of about 42 viewing hours per subscriber each month, up from an average of 38 hours per subscriber in the middle of last year.
The rising popularity of Netflix's service has helped lift the company's stock price, which has more than tripled this year.