Hulu’s new Seinfeld shuffle could (and should) be the future of streaming

We’ve all had that feeling. You pull up your streaming service of choice — be it Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or other — and just stare into an ocean of options. So many great choices. So hard to commit. The conundrum is sometimes referred to as “streaming paralysis,” and it wastes more of our time than most of us would like to admit.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest shows of all time, Seinfeld, Hulu has come up with a fun little feature that shuffles the show for you. While it’s only available on Hulu’s Apple TV app, and just for this one show at present, it could be much more than that. In fact, I’d argue that randomizing TV shows is a key component to the future of streaming.

Just think about how convenient this feature would be for your favorite “show in the background,” be it Seinfeld, The Office, Parks and Rec, or any number of other beloved sitcoms. It could be the perfect way to click and forget, jumping into an episode from any season and just letting it roll. It’s one of the primary ways of watching that I still miss about cable — letting random fate take the wheel of my entertainment.

Sure, randomization isn’t going to be great for new serials you’re following closely — you obviously wouldn’t want to watch Game of Thrones out of order, at least not for the first time. 

But the concept could even work for serious dramas in which each episode hangs off the previous one, like Breaking Bad. If you’ve seen the show as much as I have (not that I’m proud of having plowed through the chronicles of Walter White at least three times or more), you could easily catch right up. And shuffling by show could be just the beginning.

Think about your “recently watched” queue on your personalized Netflix or Hulu homepage. You probably dig all those shows, and if you’re anything like me, many of them are ones you’ve seen before. Either way, if your favorite streamer created a randomizer for the playlist, you could simply open the app, click shuffle, and let the streaming wash over you. It’d be like the good old days of cable, but without all those pesky ads. 

With algorithms getting smarter and smarter, streaming services could go much further, too. Perhaps the shuffle feature could be adjustable and fine-tuned by show designation. Maybe you could set your favorite sitcoms for total randomization, while your favorite dramas would stay in correct order. In such a case, clicking shuffle on your favorites list would pick a show at random for, say, Seinfeld, or pick your next-up episode for Runaways or Killing Eve

If you were really feeling frisky in such a scenario, you could just shuffle the list of movies or shows currently trending and let your streamer serve up your entertainment for you from a wide array of options, potentially for your next two hours of couch time. And if the chosen show or film isn’t working for you, simply click that shuffle button again.

Of course, we’ve seen streaming randomizers like this before from third parties, including the popular Netflix Roulette app. But it’s never been properly incorporated into our favorite streamers — not in the way it should be. Heck, if streaming services really wanted to kick things up a notch, they could follow the example led by music streamers like Spotify and Pandora in creating playlists based off your own show choices. Like Parks and Recreation? Here’s a playlist of similarly fun shows like Party Down (which also stars Parks‘ Adam Scott), The Office, and Great News. Just click and shuffle. Frankly, the possibilities are endless.

With a sea of streaming choices constantly arriving from nearly every corner of the tech and media worlds — including everyone from Apple to NBC — streamers are going to need to find new ways to stand out. Content alone won’t be enough. If Hulu is wise, it will expand the shuffle feature and find new ways to spread it across personalized playlists. And if Netflix and Amazon don’t follow suit, they’re missing out on some very simple, but incredibly useful, new ways to innovate their programming.

We all know there are too many shows to watch out there, and no one likes being frozen in front of the TV when all we really want is to put on something good and veg out. So, streaming services, can you help us out?

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