Best practice: Netflix automatically canceling members who haven’t been watching

Netflix app icon
Netflix app icon

Most subscription services are built around you not doing anything (inertia) and companies leveraging rules and contracts to charge you monthly fees as many times as possible while delivering as little value as possible. But there are exceptions: Netflix is now automatically canceling members who haven’t been watching.

On subscriptions

Subscriptions are here to offer you something on frequent basis, without you having to think about it. Your morning briefing by The New York Times, your contact lenses subscription, your baby diaper subscription. And, with digital growing ever more, your digital content subscriptions. The imperative of a paid subscription service is pretty much to have a monthly payment leave your pocket and get into the pocket of the subscription service company from now until the end of time. That’s the whole game. It’s why there are entire services, message boards, social media threads, and advice columns devoted to helping you cancel. The business model is based on human nature: inertia. Companies count on you *not* doing anything and staying subscribed.

It is one of my may annoyances and something really tangible to talk about when discussing the subject of personalization. Instead of sending me more emails when you know me better, send me less emails because you know me better and know what I don’t want. Instead of retargeting me more when I bought more products on your site, retarget me less because you know that I don’t need anything.

Enter Netflix.

Best practice


One of the by-effects of subscription services is unhappy customers who have been paying for not using the service.


How to avoid unhappy inactive users?


Automatically unsubscribe Netflix members after a year of inactivity.

  • Satisfaction
  • PR value
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Netflix is automatically canceling members who haven’t been watching

If you don’t watch anything on Netflix for a year after you join, the company will send you an email asking if you want to keep your membership. You’ll also get a message if you go two years without watching anything on Netflix at any point. If you write back to say, “Yes, please keep charging me for all these seasons of Friends reruns I’m ignoring” nothing changes. If you ask to cancel or don’t write back at all, Netflix automatically stops charging you. Change your mind within 10 months, and you can return to the service with all your settings intact, just as you left them when you deactivated.

Netflix announced this in a recent blog post by Eddy Wu, Product Innovation:

You know that sinking feeling when you realize you signed up for something but haven’t used it in ages? At Netflix, the last thing we want is people paying for something they’re not using.

So we’re asking everyone who has not watched anything on Netflix for a year since they joined to confirm they want to keep their membership. And we’ll do the same for anyone who has stopped watching for more than two years. Members will start seeing these emails or in app notifications this week. If they don’t confirm that they want to keep subscribing, we’ll automatically cancel their subscription. If anyone changes their mind later, it’s really easy to restart Netflix. These inactive accounts represent less than half of one percent of our overall member base, only a few hundred thousand, and are already factored into our financial guidance.

We’ve always thought it should be easy to sign up and to cancel. So, as always, anyone who cancels their account and then rejoins within 10 months will still have their favorites, profiles, viewing preferences and account details just as they left them. In the meantime, we hope this new approach saves people some hard earned cash.

— Eddy Wu, Product Innovation

You could challenge Netflix on not going far enough in their pro-active service. Two years is a pretty long leash, especially given that the standard Netflix plan currently costs around $13 a month. That’s $312 plus tax by the time Netflix will notify you. In some cases the credit card tied to your account will expire before you hit two years, making this exercise merely a PR exercise for edge cases of edge cases. By Netflix’s own estimation, its nudge notification will only apply to one half of one percent of its users—a few hundred thousand people in all—which indicates that they’ve got room to tighten it up a little.

It would amazing when more companies would start doing this. Can you imagine your fitness subscription automatically stopping? Or one of those many digital tools (marketing automation, getting things done tools) you don’t use but still have a subscription of? Website domains you’re not using?

For some companies, this will be a challenge, but Spotify knows when you’re listening. Hulu knows what you’re watching. Amazon (Amazon Prime) knows the last time it shipped something to you. Digital subscription services know exactly how much you’re getting out of them. If the answer is “nothing” they should absolutely give you a tap on the shoulder and point you to the door. The choice to stay is still yours! But at least companies can remind you that the choice exists in the first place.

And if that is too difficult, please unsubscribe me from the email newsletters I’m not reading.

And stop targeting me with the ads I’m not clicking.

Simple as that. Don’t keep charging people for something they’re not using. Don’t bug people with things they don’t want.

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