Big news in the digital world… over the last week, Netflix introduced two changes to the way its content is displayed to its user base. With 93m users logging in every month, even these small changes will have a big impact.
First, Netflix removed the five star rating that is displayed across its content. Like others, I assumed that this star rating system reflected the ratings for shows and movies by real users. But as described by Netflix, the star rating system was actually a rating of how various content would be a potential match to your personal preferences. So whilst you might see five stars for House of Cards, your neighbour might only see three stars. In place of this rating system, Netflix introduced a ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ way for users to cast their vote on content.
The second change is to also replace the stars with ‘match’ (or match rate). Match displays a percentage figure next to each show or movie, almost like a ‘compatibility rating’ to suggest how well this content may be a fit for your preferences.
Now, we have known for many years that Netflix content has been somewhat personalised. Netflix has whole teams whose job is to tag and analyse content, to enable content to be aligned to the very specific niche preferences of its users. To a large degree, the ‘behind-the-scenes’ personalisation of Netflix content has been an ingredient of its success. However, while the recent changes are consistent with Netflix’s strategy toward greater personalisation, there is also a departure from what it has done before – which is to make this personalisation so visible to the viewer. It is this important shift in viewers’ perception (which is created by the visibility of this measure) that could well be the success or failure of this feature.
‘Match’ is neither a friend nor a review crowd sourced from other people as with Rotten Tomatoes. And I assume it’s not meant to be. It does require a further action on the viewer, which is to imply a question that requires answering, ‘do you agree with this match rate for you’? Much like the ‘swipe left’ or ‘swipe right’ on Tinder and similar dating apps.
Netflix and many others have incredible sway in the way trends are adopted by millions and the way these trends affect mainstream behaviour. In just a few short years Netflix has completely changed the way content is not just consumed, but also made. To accept all this ‘goodness’ and digital disruption, as viewers we have to be prepared for some change we don’t like. Such is the bind of technological advancement that characterises society today.
It’s quite possible that in months ahead we’ll readily accept ‘match’ as though it has always been there. As users we are becoming far more accustomed to accomodating new features put into the software we use every day. The concept of ‘feature shock’ is far less of a factor than it was five years ago.
And yet I can’t help but think of the days growing up when I’d listen to Bill Collins’ midday movie prelude, before sitting down to enjoy an all-time classic like Roustabout. Those days are some time ago, but for now as a viewer if I had my choice, I would be switching off ‘match’….just for now. How about you?
2. Of interest, Netflix still makes previous user ratings available to individual’s through their Account page – http://www.polygon.com/2017/4/7/15212718/netflix-rating-system-disapproval