Netflix will start emailing parents, but it still doesn’t want to police screen time

Starting this week, the company will email parents viewing recommendations, coloring sheets and more.

Screenshot of email Netflix is sending to parents

Netflix's new email digest tells parents about the shows their kids have been watching.

Image: Netflix

Netflix wants to tell parents more about their kids' viewing habits: The streaming service is launching a biweekly email with content insights and suggestions. The company is also adding its Top 10 lists to kids profiles to give children additional viewing recommendations.

The rollout of these new features makes a lot of sense for Netflix, as children's entertainment has long been popular on the service. Family living rooms are also increasingly becoming a key battleground in the global streaming wars, as services like Disney+ attract tens of millions of subscribers with kid-friendly fare.

In this context, Netflix's new emails to parents are especially remarkable for what they are not: The fortnightly digests don't highlight total viewing hours, and aren't really meant as a report card to police the subject matter kids are interested in. Instead, the emails put a bigger emphasis on creating shared family time.

That was a direct result of conversations Netflix's kids and family team had with parents and their children, said Netflix's director of product innovation, Jennifer Nieva, in an interview with Protocol this week. "They were looking to engage and bond more with kids," Nieva said of parents she and her team talked to. "They wanted to understand their kids."

Nieva said that Netflix's apps already offer a number of parental control options, including the ability to turn off autoplay for children's profiles. However, she also argued that screen time has been harder to navigate during the pandemic. "Every family has their own limits," she said.

The new email digest highlights some of the movies and shows children have recently watched on their profiles, and shows the types of themes that are common in the titles they have streamed. It also highlights additional titles a child may like, and gives parents the option to add those titles directly to their watch list. Emails for younger kids include downloadable coloring sheets, and parents are being told about features related to kids profiles. The emails will be automatically sent out to any Netflix member with a kids profile starting this Friday.

Also launching globally this week: Top 10 lists for kids, which are based on popularity and refreshed every 24 hours. A parent herself, Nieva said that those Top 10 lists had already helped her kids discover new things to watch, including the documentary "My Octopus Teacher." "I don't think my kids would have discovered it on their own," she said.

Netflix's embrace of content recommendation tools for families makes a lot of sense for the company. Around 60% of all Netflix subscribers watch kids and family content every month, and half of all members watch animated kids shows and movies on the service, according to Nieva.

However, the kids and family streaming space is also getting increasingly competitive. Disney+ is pretty much synonymous with family fare, and services like Amazon and HBO Max have also been licensing and producing an increasing number of kids shows.

At the same time, it's become harder for Netflix to grow its subscriber numbers, especially in saturated markets like North America. During the first three months of this year, the company added just 450,000 paying subscribers in North America and Canada. This makes it all the more important for Netflix to retain existing members — and keeping families hooked may be an important piece of that puzzle.

"We are the only company to be doing this," Nieva said of the new parental email digest.


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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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