Update: Since this was first published, Google is now showing Netflix at the top of the organic results for the House of Cards example. It has also been brought to my attention that nobody is really using the “watch house of cards” query. I guess that’s good. I really wasn’t trying to suggest that this is the way everybody gets to these shows. I just found it odd that Google would display such results for such queries. Despite its apparent low search volume, a query like “watch house of cards” doesn’t seem all that crazy to me. Either way, this isn’t how the majority of people find these shows, and it was never my intention to imply that it was.
Google is suggesting that users looking to “watch House of Cards” check out Stream-TV.me, which is pointing users to episodes from both seasons “online free”. I’m sure you’ve encountered sites like this before even if not this specific one.
Note: I’m adding this update in response to comments received on this article. This is Google’s algorithm dictating which results to show. I’m in no way suggesting that Google as a company is encouraging piracy.
What’s interesting is that Google would put this as the first result for the query, ahead of Netflix itself (which is the second result). Other sites like couchtuner.eu and TVmuse.com also promising episodes online for free are sprinkled throughout the top ten, along with various videos and articles from sources like ABC and Variety. The “news” results suggest the user “watch the kinky sex scene everyone is talking about.”
If you turn off “Search Plus Your World,” a Netflix ad appears at the top, but it’s still under Stream-TV in the organic results.
I’m not sure what the personalization of SPYW is about here, by the way. Does Google know I’m a Netflix subscriber so it doesn’t bother to show me the ad when I have it enabled?
Look how far down on the page Netflix is for Orange is the New Black:
Similar results occur for other Netflix originals like Lilyhammer, Hemlock Grove, Arrested Development, and Derek. Netflix isn’t even in the results for Mako Mermaids:
Netflix doesn’t make an appearance at all until page six, and that’s just a post from the Netflix Nodics newsroom, which doesn’t even work. I got through fourteen pages of results without finding a link to watch it on Netflix, which is without question the most relevant destination (at least here in the U.S.).
How does it do on other Netflix original content like documentary The Square, which is nominated for an Oscar? Well, Netflix gets the top spot in the organic results on that one, but a Google house ad to get it from Google Play appears above that, which is interesting considering it’s not currently available on Google Play. Click it, and you’ll realize that Google is just trying to sell you a 2008 film of the same name. All of Google’s organic results know that this isn’t the film you’re looking for (and by the way, where’s the Knowledge Graph option to choose on this one?), but that doesn’t mean Google can’t try to sell you something completely irrelevant at the top of the page. Also notice the other irrelevant ad on the side.
How about the Aziz Ansari stand-up special Buried Alive? Keep in mind, this is a six-month Netflix exclusive (which Netflix has gone out of its way to promote heavily compared to other specials). it debuted in November on Netlix, and after a six-month run, Ansari said a $5 download option would become available. Google gives you a site with a list of seventeen links to find it (SolarMovie.so) as well as another option above the Netflix link. Netflix does have an ad spot on this one, which Google showed at the bottom of the page (though I refreshed it and lost it for the screenshot).
It’s not just Netflix content. Google has some questionable results for a lot of TV shows, though it seems to do a little better with HBO content in some cases. “Watch Game of Thrones” and “Watch True Detective” both returned HBO as the top result.
Netflix is the obvious choice for its original shows, but it’s not even the only legitimate option in some cases. You can find episodes of House of Cards on Amazon, for example, yet this did not appear on the first page of results either.
Images via Google