Netflix Has Ditched the Star System

(“Netflix has ditched the solar system” would have sounded cooler, but what can you do?) Either which way, the days of rating movies from 1-5 stars on Netflix seem to be over. It’s reduced its user rating system to a very simple thumbs up or thumbs down decision. Did you like the movie or dislike it?

Part of me is bummed about the switch. I had been very dutiful about rating movies on Netflix, and I felt like the algorithm had me down pretty well. I could look at a movie I hadn’t heard about and have a good idea whether I would like it or not based on the anticipated rating Netflix assigned to it. I understood that sometimes that rating might be lower than usual, based on the genre. I didn’t give out many 5 star reviews to action movies, for example, just because many of them don’t warrant it. But I knew when I wanted to watch an action movie and the algorithm gave it around 4 stars, then it would be a really good one for me.

That’s all gone now. Netflix has replaced it with a new algorithm that estimates how good of a “match” a movie or TV show is to your tastes. It’s a percent score, so if they’re really sure you’ll like something, they’ll list it as 98%. That kind of thing. You can indicate what you think of a show by rating it thumbs up or thumbs down, but Netflix has decided it has something far more reliable to judge you on:

Your actual viewing habits.

It makes sense, in a very big-brothery way. Netflix has full knowledge of which shows you watch, when, on which devices. It knows the shows you start but don’t finish. It knows your secret penchant for My Little Pony binges in the middle of the night. It knows your tastes the best way that’s really possible. By keeping track of how you vote with your eyeballs.

I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it makes sense for Netflix to do it. It’s in the entertainment business, and it wants to make sure you’re happy with what you’re watching. It realized that often people wouldn’t give the shows and movies they liked best the highest ratings. Like me, other people sometimes like to watch a movie just for kicks, even if it’s not the best movie in the world. They’ll give it three stars, but they had a great time watching it. But the thing is, sometimes I want a movie that’s going to challenge me. That I’m not necessarily going to love, but which I’ll be very happy that I watched it. It’s not a popcorn flick. It’s a real piece of art.

How will Netflix manage that one? I worry it’ll keep parading the same kinds of shows and movies I often watch, instead. It’ll want to keep me happy on a steady diet of sugars and carbs, when what I really need is a fine dinner now and then. See my point?

It’s also troubling that even with the new system, when I go to “Top Picks for Bryce,” it continues to provide me with suggestions that are far less than ideal. Matches that are just 70% or 56%, leading me to believe those “top picks” are nothing more than paid ads by the content creators. Seriously–why not have the section filled with the content that’s the closest match? It seems like a no brainer.

Anyway. We’ll see how it plays out in practice. Maybe it’ll grow on me. If any of you get experience with it, chime in to let me know what you think.

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