I found this article—“How Netflix is Turning Its Viewers Into Puppets”—fascinating, because I had no idea that so many factors were being analyzed each time a viewer logged in and watched something (everything from when a viewer pressed pause to when they started to tune out as the credits rolled). I knew, from my own experience with Netflix, that each time I watched a program, movie, or documentary, I would be provided with suggestions of similar things to watch (“because you watched this movie with a ‘strong female lead’ you may like these other female-led movies”). I have to say that for me, personally, I’ve never taken Netflix up on its recommendations (despite the claim in the article that 75% of its subscribers are influenced by what Netflix suggests they will like. I guess I’m just in the 25% that don’t). I usually log on either knowing exactly what I want to watch already, or, if I don’t, I’ll just search by the genre I’m interested in.
When it comes to recommendations, I am far more likely to watch something an actual human thinks I’ll enjoy rather than what Netflix thinks I will. Additionally, I find it interesting that Netflix pays so much attention to trying to replicate what viewers have already enjoyed; surely, having binged on House of Cards, for example, viewers will want the next thing they watch to be a little different? (If not completely different.) Speaking from my own experience, I know that having just watched say, a horror movie, I will probably want the next thing I view to be decidedly lighter.
At the end of the day Netflix has no real way of calculating what will be a hit with its viewers and what won’t. Again, going from personal experience, I really enjoyed the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black and the recent 10-episode documentary Making a Murderer, but House of Cards just didn’t do it for me. Despite the political drama getting rave reviews from both friends and family, it just didn’t hook me in like I hoped it would. I know people who watched and enjoyed all three of the above; some who only liked one or two; and some who didn’t enjoy any of them…and their taste in other programs/movies appears to be completely uncorrelated to which of these three they enjoyed, or didn’t.
All this is to ask the question: can Netflix really know what we’ll enjoy, despite all its efforts to track our viewing habits? When I think about my own likes and dislikes when it comes to watching something, there is often an intangible quality that I can’t quite pinpoint that determines whether I enjoy something or not, and if I can’t determine what this is, how could Netflix possibly know?