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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

this is the most depressing interpretation of Netflix I’ve read

So, Alexis C. Madrigal at The Atlantic wrote a long piece about Netflix’s bizarrely specific genres — you know, like Inspiring Fight-the-System Comedies and Girl Power Satanic Tearjerkers; turns out there’s 76,897 of them. The piece is called “How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood” and you should read it, because it’s funny and rather in awe and also contains a hilarious Netflix-Genre Generator that created those sample genres above. It’s good for wasting 10 or 15 minutes pumping out weird genres and wishing that movies that fit into them existed.

But then Felix Salmon at Reuters had to go and ruin the fun by looking at Madrigal’s drilling down of Netflix’s system of tagging all the movies it offers and coming to less cool conclusions about what Netflix is up to. From “Netflix’s dumbed-down algorithms”:

Netflix can’t, any longer, aspire to be the service which allows you to watch the movies you want to watch. That’s how it started off, and that’s what it still is, on its legacy DVDs-by-mail service. But if you don’t get DVDs by mail, Netflix has made a key tactical decision to kill your queue — the list of movies that you want to watch. Once upon a time, when a movie came out and garnered good reviews, you could add it to your list, long before it was available on DVD, in the knowledge that it would always become available eventually. If you’re a streaming subscriber, however, that’s not possible: if you give Netflix a list of all the movies you want to watch, the proportion available for streaming is going to be so embarrassingly low that the company decided not to even give you that option any more…

So Netflix has been forced to attempt a distant second-best: scouring its own limited library for the films it thinks you’ll like, rather than simply looking for the specific movies which it knows (because you told it) that you definitely want to watch. This, from a consumer perspective, is not an improvement.

Netflix… no longer wants to show me the things I want to watch, and it doesn’t even particularly want to show me the stuff I didn’t know I’d love. Instead, it just wants to feed me more and more and more of the same, drawing mainly from a library of second-tier movies and TV shows, and actually making it surprisingly hard to discover the highest-quality content.

It’s actually even worse than that, as you’ll see in Salmon’s explanation of how Netflix is more like TV than it is like Blockbuster (or your late lamented local video rental store). Read the whole thing, and you’ll never look at Netflix the same way again. (And you may want to stick around here for my weekly posts pointing out the good stuff that’s available to stream that you might otherwise have missed.)


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