Netflix launches user profiles to make it easier to share one account

A screenshot of the new Netflix user profiles selection screen on a PlayStation 3.

It just got a whole lot more convenient to share your Netflix account.

On Thursday morning Netflix officially announced the launch of user profiles, which will allow subscribers to make separate, individual profiles within a single account for up to five different people. The profiles are designed to help Netflix deliver better recommendations to each person using a shared account; they will also let each user create his or her own Instant Queue when using Netflix, a long-requested feature among those sharing the service.

Profiles will start rolling out today, and you can sign up for profiles either on or on the Netflix app for PlayStation 3. You will be able to use Profiles immediately on the Netflix website, PlayStation 3, iOS devices, smart TVs and the Xbox 360. Other devices will see Profiles "over the coming months," according to a press release from Netflix.

Though post-college buddies who piggyback on a friend's parent's Netflix account will probably be thrilled by the news, the Profiles functionality is primarily aimed at families, according to Netflix Chief Product Office Neil Hunt, and delivering personalized recommendations to each member of that family based on his or her specific viewing habits.

"About 3/4 of everything people watch on Netflix, the recommendation engine plays some role in helping them discover that content," Hunt said in an interview. "The challenge we have is that most Netflix members are families with several individuals and the tastes and interests of those individuals can differ substantially."

"What we've sought to do with Profiles is separate the experience from the kids, from each spouse, from anyone else who's living in the household, and provide a different set of recommendations for each individual based on what that individual has watched and enjoyed, what that individual has rated, what genres and categories that individual prefers."

Netflix Profiles is quite simple to use in practice. You give a name and an avatar to each different member of your family, and then on subsequent visits Netflix will ask which person is watching before you start flipping around the catalogue. Based on each watcher's activity and star ratings, Netflix's vaunted recommendation engine begins to generate title recommendations for each member.  Previously, families or friends who were sharing accounts often received confused or unwanted recommendations, since spouses tend to have different tastes in movies and television shows from each other, not to mention their children.

At any time, you can switch profiles from the menu bar on the top of your screen:

Managing, adding and deleting accounts is also fairly simple. From this screen, you can also press "Edit" to change someone's name, or denote that a user is under 12 years old, to ensure that he or sheonly sees age-appropriate content:

You may be wondering what will happen to the recommendations for the main user, who previously may have been watching action movies, romantic comedies and kids cartoons over the course of a single and whose queue may have been a hodgepodge of titles intended for his entire family. Eddy Wu, the Director of Product Innovation at Netflix, told me that Netflix's algorithm doesn't have as long of a memory as you might expect:

"Our recommendation algorithms look largely at what you have recently watched," Wu explained. "Within a week or two or three weeks you should see your recommendations start to clear up, as soon you've set up a separate profile for your wife, so that she can watch her stuff, and your kids, so they can watch their stuff."

And as for worries that this will just encourage more hoodlum teens and millennials to share accounts? Hunt says that this chatter has been blown out of proportion, and that crosstown sharers are dwarfed by the number of families who use Netflix; besides which, the clause in the Netflix Terms of Service that limits users to two streams at a time will remain in effect.

So, even though you can have five different profiles on Netflix, you can still only stream two shows at once; once you start streaming a third, one of the streams will be shut down.

The option to add profiles should begin appearing today; on, setup takes place in the upper righthand corner. And for even more on Netflix Profiles, you can watch this explainer video put together by Netflix, featuring Eddy Wu (hey, he was quoted in this article!) below.