Netflix's latest A/B test is drawing criticism from child advocacy groups.
On Saturday, Variety reported that Netflix is testing collectable "patches" for some kids' shows. These are collectable images that viewers gain access to after watching Fuller House, Trollhunter or A Series of Unfortunate Events. The patches are their own rewards - collecting them doesn't offer any additional content - though Variety notes that parents are tweeting their kids' love for the new system.
— Kaley Belakovich (@KaleyBelakovich) February 24, 2018
At the end of every episode: “Mom we get a PRIZE!!”
— Mia ???? (@mrsmiamac) March 7, 2018
When reached for comment, a Netflix spokesperson told Gizmodo, "We are testing a new feature on select kids titles that introduces collectible items for a more interactive experience, adding an element of fun and providing kids something to talk about and share around the titles they love. We learn by testing and this feature may or may not become part of the Netflix experience."
Though it's apparently a limited test, one advocacy group is concerned it's the start of Netflix rewarding children for unhealthy viewing habits.
"It's designed to turn kids into lobbyists and undermine parents' limits," Josh Golin, Executive Director, of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told Gizmodo. The CCFC is a nonprofit concerned about corporations who market to children. "It's just incredible to me that as we're having this national conversation about persuasive design of tech and how tech is often designed for the benefit of tech companies at the expense of users well-being, that Netflix would test something like this," Golin said.
There are already numerous concerns about how extended screen time impacts childhood development. The CCFC's concern is that the new patch system will create a feedback loop wherein child viewers push for more screen time than they usually would because they want to be rewarded with the patches.
"Children like to collect things," Golin explained. "So this will probably be incredibly effective at getting kids wanting to watch more and more Netflix. [Netflix] is using techniques that children certainly can't understand and they're developmentally vulnerable to, to get them to engage in activity which is not good for them."
Netflix denied the bingeing/unlocking characterisation. The patches themselves don't allow access to new content and viewers don't have to watch multiple episodes to collect them. (Oddly enough, however, there are locks on the patches as you collect them). Golin says parents should create firm rules around screen time and talk to their kids about the content they consume whether the patch test becomes permanent or not.
"Honestly, if Netflix was to roll this out right now and make this a major part of their kids' programming, parents should reconsider whether they have Netflix."