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Netflix Has Deleted Every User Review Ever Posted to Its Website (indiewire.com)
176 points by cpeterso on Aug 18, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 171 comments

It may also be the case that negative reviews of movies, TV shows, and stand-up specials did more to dissuade potential viewers than positive reviews did them to draw in; ...

Netflix's bigger problem is that much of its content looks good on the surface, but on closer inspection is not worth the time. A lot of this stuff is produced by Netflix itself. Bill Nye's most recent show comes to mind, but there's a lot more.

Netflix shouldn't have deleted those reviews. It should be using them to clean the junk out of its lineup.

Whether a show, book, movie, song, etc is "worth the time" is entirely subjective. There are million dollar franchises based on material that I don't consider worth my time. But you better believe that stuff is worth Netflix's time.

A perfect example of this is "Bright," a netflix movie that was critically panned. But people watched it. And now they're making "Bright 2". Are you really suggesting that Netflix should stop making movies that people want to see because critics (professional or otherwise) dislike them?

Two things people need to keep mind:

a). There's no objective way to judge this stuff.

b). The existence of movies like "Bright" does not prevent "high quality films" from being made.

Werner Herzog, Kelly Reichardt, Wong Kar Wai, Michael Haneke, Mia Hanson-Love, etc can keep making movies whether or not "Bright" keeps getting made over and over again. Both kinds of movies have their audience, and that's fine.

None of this is relevant though. You're comparing critical acclaim with the opinion of the masses, while what's being discussed is the reaction of the masses based on pre-viewing marketing (views) vs the reaction of the masses _after_ having seen the movie (reviews).

You conjured the objection to professional critics out of whole cloth to bolster the weak argument that the opinion of the masses who've watched the movie in question is not _precisely_ what they should be optimizing for.

Views that a user is dissatisfied with is obviously not good for the user. While just as directly profitable for Netflix, it's also something they should seek to minimize in favor of satisfied views (ie views that would lead to good reviews), as it can be a leading indicator for "I don't like much of what I watch on Netflix" --> "I'm going to watch less Netflix". The latter is obviously not something Netflix wants, both in terms of ability to acquire content and potential loss of subscriptions on the margins.

Netflix funnels people towards their own properties in the hope of raising the value of their new IP and network. Some are hits. Some are misses.

People watching Bright doesn't mean people, on the whole, liked Bright. Making a Bright 2 might just mean that making another was the easiest and cheapest way they had to honour Will Smith's contract, which may have primarily been inked to keep Will Smith out of putting together exclusive content for other streaming services he was in talks with.

The idea that the quality of the content itself is the end-all of the business decision to fund a series or movie is misguided.

Regardless, this misses the point. Consumers are right to push back against lowered content standards, and opaque business choices don't trump that. If Bright was actually good, it would have been fans that were clamouring for Bright 2. They weren't. The fact that good money is following bad doesn't mean the series is suddenly a success.

Recent Adam Sandler movies are a great example - he makes huge money off of small budgets and people watch them.

You’re on the right track, but there is an objective way to measure this stuff: views and retention. Netflix is a retention machine, not a quality content machine. According to their models, the content they are making keeps people around.

Hah, wouldn't you love it if the junk was removed and one day you log on and you just get a message telling you that you've watched all the stuff the algorithm thinks you'll like and you might as well go do something else?

The one thing I liked most about Netflix back when it was a DVD service was the recommendation system. I could rate things with stars, and Netflix could figure out, with reasonable accuracy, what movies I would consider junk and what I would consider quality, rather than the opinions of the general public.

They have some good shows but their streaming movie selection and recommendation system doesn't hold a candle to what they used to have.

Netflix's DVD service is still active. They just hide it under a separate URL: https://dvd.netflix.com

At some point, Netflix decided my address was fake and cancelled my account, I never bothered to address it since that seems like a silly way to deal with that scenario.

Funnily enough, it's unavailable for me at the moment (location: EU).

I remember that in the beginning the recommendations for the streaming service were pretty good. But they became worse and worse, at least for me.

One has to wonder how comes that recommendations were pretty good, but then they spent millions of dollars on improving them, including highly-publicized competitions and a lot of work inhouse I assume, and not they are not.

Maybe it is because netflix doesn't host that much good content?

When they have you dialed in you've already watched everything worth watching so there is no good content left to recommend.

This is the part I don’t understand. Why do they go through so much effort to have me binge watch Netflix. It costs them bandwidth, and it makes me go through the quality stuff quicker.

If they instead tried to get me watching just enough to keep the subscription it would be cheaper for them and I would have be more happy with the mean quality of available options

> Why do they go through so much effort to have me binge watch Netflix.

"Focus Area #1: Engagement Engagement is, hands down, the #1 area that you should be concerned with on social media. It is the catalyst for improvement in all of the other social media KPIs we'll discuss." https://www.impactbnd.com/blog/social-media-kpis

This is just an example. Everybody wants to become Facebook for some reason.

That doesn’t make any sense, getting rid of user reviews makes Netflix streaming less social. Netflix is not social media.

Trying to have people watch just enough to keep subscribing is too hard a needle to thread, it’s easier to encourage as much streaming as possible so people feel like they’re getting something for their money. I’m sure bandwidth is a minor cost compared to licensing and producing content.

Seems to me that licensing and production cost should also go down withe less watching.

It shouldn’t be that hard though. Just keep a reasonably diverse catalog and give people tools to browse it.

Speaking of diverse, now a days I turn to YouTube when I want to watch something interesting. I wonder how much of that type of content they could add to their catalog.

Not specifically the random user generated content, way to much hassle, or “be amazed” crap, they have plenty of that already, but there are a lot high quality channels targeting some niche on the long tail.

What specifically do you watch on YouTube that’s comparable to the movies and scripted series on Netflix? I know YouTube Red has shows like ‘Cobra Kai’ but you seem to be referring to regular YouTube.

The point was to expand and diversify, so not exactly comparable. But I was thinking of things like PBS spacetime, world science festival, royal institute lectures, and such.

We have a public service VOD-service here that hosts some content of that nature.

> That doesn’t make any sense, getting rid of user reviews makes Netflix streaming less social. Netflix is not social media.

Yes. You are right. If they are just looking for more engagement removing the reviews will go against that policy.

Maybe what they mean is to have more links to Netflix on social media. TBH a lot of content I consume comes from links on social media, blogs, etc. - maybe Netflix could up their game there. If they can't make the bot to recommend movies for me maybe they could make people I share interests with do it.

I have movies I have already rated (i.e. watched) in the "watch next" list. Sure, it can happen that I want to watch them again, but it seems unlikely.

It seems clear netflix is optimizing for something which is not just "the movie this user would like to watch next".

Yeah I wish Netflix separated "movies that I already watched but maybe will watch again sometime" from "movies I didn't watch yet but want to". And also from "series that I'd want to watch the new season for but don't want in my list until that happens since I am not going to re-watch old seasons".

They are almost there but looks like either my watch-flow is somehow weird or they didn't pay attention to how people actually watch things.

It might seem unlikely to you, but I would be surprised if it wasn't the most common action. Many people will watch the same thing over and over.

To that end, training the model in their users, it would not surprise me to have that be an emergent recommendation.

Yes, I wish Netflix would hide things I’ve watched more. Obviously if it’s still in My List it should remain, having a Watch it Again section is fine but they should basically disappear from New Releases or lists based on what I liked and be at the end of the list in genre categories.

Try starting a new profile under your account and then selectively thumbs-up shows. It was surprisingly effective for me. Also made sure to clean up the watch history on the Netflix website when it got polluted with someone else's stuff or shows that I regretted watching.

My experience is that watch history affects the recommendation engine more than thumbs up or down.

I reckon internal politics weigh down good ideas.

I've always wondered if they have different incentives around different shows and movies. Clearly they ideally would want everyone to be hooked on their original content, but I wonder if deal structures for other content make watching certain content better for Netflix than others.

It might have more to do with the content suppliers wanting to get into the same market and competing with Netflix.

The disc service still exists, I’m a customer. It still lets users give star ratings and still has user written comments/reviews.

That's why i unsubbed. Could never find anything compelling to watch

One reason I think Netflix has a lot of those 1-season, low budget, 4-8 episode flops is that producing them is a lot lower risk. Unlike a TV network, they don't have to take up time that could be filled by something else, nor do they have to lose money on advertising slots to promote it. And if the show flops, they have no real reason not to keep it up on the site.

For a Netflix-produced show, the first season is almost like an extended pilot who's only judge is the viewership instead of some network executives.

"Worth the time" is relative. Some people really enjoy shows which other people consider to be "junk."

I suspect Netflix realizes this. I don't mind them not being suggested, but I'd be really upset if "junk" shows became unavailable. There's a bunch of popular content which I don't enjoy and I wouldn't be surprised if a sizable portion of content I do consume is "junk" according to popular opinion.

> Some people really enjoy shows which other people consider to be "junk."

A matter of learning to appreciate a genre. For example I like certain types of reality tv which others think is 'stupid'. But first I didn't say all reality tv and also there are things I could point out to show why it is I appreciate it to anyone watching (one is learning from facial expressions at least in people that are not botoxed). By the same token I have no appreciation of sports. I wouldn't call it 'junk' simply because I realize others have learned to really like it. But it's no different than anything else. And the reason most people wouldn't criticize sports is because they see it's widely accepted mainstream. So they are not going to be the one to go out on a limb and call it out. Although they would something else (like shooting guns as a hobby).

Americans will regularly criticize soccer. A lot of people will regularly criticize baseball. Both for being boring or what have you. Sports are definitely not immune. Just more tolerated and accepted as you say because of their sheer popularity and cultural significance.

Perhaps it's relative as far as entertainment value is concerned, but not as far as artistic merit is. I for one don't enjoy wading through an endless stream of consumerist drivel helmed by yes-people who just want their big break, or who otherwise are simply involved for the pay and career.

>I suspect Netflix realizes this

Yes, because they collect all kinds of user data and have statistics to back up viewership and retention. E.g. the Adam Sandler films they produced come to mind. I don't think anyone would claim they're worthwhile films, but nonetheless Netflix has stated they got lots of views, which is important for their platform, especially to quantify investment returns. My theory is that since Netflix is global, foreign audiences further skew the quality:views statistics, as many such countries' media is dominated by Western media, and "Western" may very well be enough to make it appealing simply because it contrasts with domestic media and arts. But I suppose the West does this as well by awarding an Oscar to the "Best Foreign Film" that might very well not be as acclaimed or otherwise not viewed as such in its own country.

I think that's an awful example. Adam Sanders movies fairly consistently do well on very low budgets, because he consistently delivers a certain recipe: feel-good relatively low brow comedies that don't take themselves very seriously. They are worthwhile exactly because of that - once you've seen a couple you know exactly what you get, and when that is what you feel like it's an easy choice. That makes them extremely 'Netflix friendly' - if you've liked a couple, you're likely to like a lot of them. You don't need to sell them very hard past his name - people who like his movies will watch them when that's what they're in the mood for.

Netflix is in the game of "filler" content. They will make money even if the content is mediocre because (many) people will turn to Netflix even if the quality is not stellar. That's unfortunate but a reality of the business model. If it didn't work, they wouldn't keep making lots of crap.

> (many) people will turn to Netflix even if the quality is not stellar

Absolutely. Just like the television programming that Netflix is in the process of replacing!

You pay per month, not per view.

I don't see the upside for Netflix shrinking its catalog. I regularly watch Spanish junk shows to practice the language. And I like particularly bad horror movies when I want some background noise rather than wasting a good movie on background noise.

The problem of junk shows diluting the good shoes would be a UI problem.

Well, maybe since Netflix has viewing data, knows how often a show is watched to completion, and over 125 million paying subscribers and some sort of multiple of actual users per account, could it possibly be that they have more of an insight into what is “junk” than someone looking in from the outside?

Netflix really doesn't have much insight into level of engagement. I leave some shows running while I do chores around the house, and that looks like I'm obsessively binge watching them. I take months to finish watching other shows I enjoy a great deal. I appreciate having a supply of garbage shows to leave watching while I do the dishes, but I wouldn't be paying Netflix money if they didn't supply a lot of new content that engages my full attention.

It seems like they're deliberately moving toward a shallower understanding of why people watch.

Of course they do, but the post you replied to did not accuse them of ignorance.

Netflix's bigger problem is that much of its content looks good on the surface, but on closer inspection is not worth the time.

What’s not “worth the time” to one person doesn’t matter. Netflix has enough aggregate data to know what type of content keeps people on versus how much it costs to acquire the content.

The only content that would be “junk” to Netflix is content that doesn’t engage enough viewers to keep down churn.

One problem may be inability to fully articulate genre enjoyment segmentation relative to classification , so that aggregate moves result in a worse results overall.

Not everyone will stop watching a bad movie midway through, even if they don't like it.

The selection on Netflix's streaming service is atrocious.

Their DVD service ( https://dvd.netflix.com ) is far, far superior. All the user reviews are still up on there too, for now.

That's overstating things. They put a bunch of Scorsese movies up this summer. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is pretty great. That's just for instance. Maybe you've seen everything, but that doesn't mean the content is garbage.

It may seem like the selection is terrible on the streaming service, but I think a lot of content is just hard to find.

Given Netflix's investment in content, they will be not removing it anytime soon as it fills their library but removing the third party content once licensing fees are up, eventually it will be mostly just netflix original content on the platform and the more the better

Much of their current content is Chinese (much of which doesn't translate well, although I kind of like the Australian version of the Monkey King story), Korean (which is often quite good), and strange Malaysian things.

Some A/B testing maybe told them that no reviews create higher engagement.

They probably decrease long time customer satisfaction and drive them to other platforms, but hey, who cares, you can't measure that.

ya their content is trash and they're tryna hide it

I like the part where they silently remove shows, but very publicly announce all of the wonderful additions they’ve made to their selection in the past month.

> Netflix said in a statement that “the reviews and our redesigned ratings system (thumbs up/down) never contributed to how we approach personalizing recommendations for members and writing a ‘bad’ review never had any bearing to whether a title was recommended to another viewer or not.”

THAT explains why Netflix keeps recommending me garbage quality content! I had a suspicion this was true, but couldn’t imagine anyone would make such a terrible design choice: 95% of content Netflix recommends me now is unwatchably bad in content quality (including Netflix originals too, of course).

IMO abolishing user ratings is quite probably the worst possible solution to losing user engagement due to low quality content.

How in the world does this make sense? The entire competitive advantage of having the scale and user information that Netflix has is to be able to do personal recommendations by recommending shows based on what others with similar taste like. Heck, I know very little about big data and even I have walked through a simple sentiment analysis proof of concept demo to rate comments as positive or negative.

They are probably determining this directly on when someone is watching a show, which shows, etc.

I can only watch shows they recommend though! You get stuck in a local maxima with no way to escape. God help you if you watch a WWII documentary.

I so rarely find a title I search for that I don't bother with that anymore.

> I can only watch shows they recommend though!

That's not true at all. You can absolutely browse by genre, actor, etc.

It's still heavily colored by your history. Using someone else's Netflix was really an eye opener. This new algo driven world is stifling.

not on my smart tv (tizen), or at least not in any sensible way.

Sometimes I search for a genre, minor actor, or just a random word. I almost always find something I'd like to watch.

Really? Because today, August 19th 2018, I search for Sci-Fi films and get like 20 totals results. Moon is not even in the Sci-Fi Genres for f*s sake. None of the greaty Sci-Fi indie films I used to get recommended to me 4 years ago even show up in a Sci-Fi search. Netflix has truly succumbed to their hiring/firing practices IMHO.

Did you browse the sci-fi directory or did you do a word search on "Sci-Fi." I went to the directory and Moon was the first title in the list.

Why take someone's word for what they like or don't like when you know what they actually watch?

How do you know a user liked a movie or TV show after watching it? I think a movie has to be really really bad for people to actually stop halfway through. For TV shows it might be more likely that people drop out after a couple episodes but if it's just "meh" or the show's finale was disappointing, how do your algorithms know?

They won't watch the next show in the same category or series. Or the next. Seeing one 'meh' to the end is one thing, seeing two to the end is unlikely, seeing three and they are lying in their comments. I fact I believe minutes watched are more accurate than ratings. Very few people take time to rate, and of that category even less rate properly for algorithms to make sense.

Still, they could have left it in and just collect the data. Even if for providing a false sense/feeling of choice and ownership in the matter ;).

Once you can analyze all the things someone watches and all the views on a single video, then it's not particularly useful to know if this one person liked this one video.

I'm not sure how much it matters how good each episode of a tv show is. Do you look up the rating of each subsequent episode before you watch it? If most people in your cohort were hooked enough for 5 episodes before tapering off, then certainly that's a tv show you may want to see.

Also, if everyone was interested enough to sit through something even though most people would say the payoff sucked, as opposed to bailing on the video early on, then I'm not convinced it's much different from a movie that people sat through and particularly liked when it comes to recommendation. So people enjoyed 75/90min instead the full 90/90min, not very damning.

When I find a TV show "meh", I usually jump from episode 3-4 to season finale to get closure. I wonder if others do this.

They not only know what you watch, but know which parts you re-watch.

That's how we got the hate read content economy.

Imagine Amazon doing the same.

If I am going to pay for something on Amazon sight unseen, I care about reviews. But I’ve already paid for Netflix. There is no additional monetary commitment.

There is, it's the next month and the next month and so on and so forth.

It got bad enough for me that I deleted my Netflix account a few months ago and haven't really missed it. I got tired of scrolling through for ages and never finding anything I felt like watching. It still surprises me that they don't do a better job of recommendations given they used to make a big deal out of it.

So, what are you watching instead?..

Well since then my TV broke and I haven't bothered replacing it, so nothing. We haven't really missed it but that might change when summer is over, we'll see.

Youtube has a good recommendation engine (mostly based on last 10 videos you viewed), so it is enjoyable to browse Youtube videos.

A long time ago netflix would allow you to go into a genre and sort movies by star rating. Finding something good to watch was very straight forward back then.

Have you actually tried to watch what Netflix recommends to you or do you just feel like it's bad? I'm definitely in the latter case, but I haven't been trying to prove it.

Wow, what a massive total waste, shame on netflix. In the early days people relied heavily on those reviews, and spent hours writing those reviews. I understand them wanting to keep that data for data analysis purposes, and I understand them wanting to not share it, but to delete it?

At least make it rate limited tied to a paid Netflix account or something, not wipe it away for ever. What a shame.

Yeah I remember a page-long review of Caillou that proposed an elaborate theory that the entire show was actually a flashback of the parents after Caillou's passing, having died of terminal cancer (evidenced by his baldness as a result of chemotherapy). This was the ostensible explanation for their limitless patience and coddling as Caillou whines and pouts his way through every episode with no boundaries, discipline or consequences of any form.

That review truly was lemons-to-lemonade as all other aspects of that show I wish I could expunge from my memory.

Off-topic, but was it https://www.wattpad.com/205511535-creepypasta-caillou-has-ca... ? Your description was too good, so I had to look it up.

How is it a shame if nobody uses the reviews and they're basically useless? Sounds like they're just deleting an unmaintained and unused feature.

Maybe it's just me but my experience is that except for the actual streaming (after you started to watch a movie), the Netflix UI is super bad. It recommends movies which I hate, it shows series which have been on Netflix for years under "New on Netflix", it doesn't provide any usable sorting, the searching is crap and so on. I would put zero faith in a statement by Netflix saying that something is "useless". The actual streaming experience is super good but when it comes to everything else they seem clueless to me.

I'm miss the old days of reviews and Genre grouping on the home page. I used to get great indie film recommendations and could occasionally go "dumpster diving" for lower rated movies and find some gems.

Honestly, I think Netflix has become full of themselves. They pretend to have discovered some universal truths in how to create the best UI experience and suggestion system, and yet they have A/B tested tge interface over the years to this pile of garbage. It even hangs Edge frequently when I first open it there; the only browser that will play 1080p for me!

Give me a break Netflix; you're drunk on data.

I find it interesting that there isn't yet a sort of "streaming-service library discovery/manager" app that doesn't do any streaming of its own, but rather just offers a good discovery UI for the streaming services you connect it to, where clicking "watch" in the service deep-links to the individual content item in the respective streaming app.

This has been done to death in other content areas (I think there are more emulated-game library browsers than there are emulators!) so why not for streaming services? Is it that the streaming services don't expose the deep-linking ability?

This app already exists for Netflix (25 countries) and Hulu:


Sounds like a great idea. You should build it!

"Declining use" is a result of Netflix's own decisions to downplay reviews because they were helping people decide not to watch movies they wouldn't like.

Why should Netflix care if you watch or don’t watch a given movie? What they should care about is whether you stay a subscriber or not. If they try to push too much garbage, and not provide good tools to filter out the crappy content, they’re just wasting people’s time. Users will get frustrated and leave. I did!

You'd think, but the people running Netflix are human. They do not always put business success first. There have been a number of highly political things produced by Netflix that were heavily promoted. People slammed them hard in the reviews and comments.

If the ratings show you that there aren't any shows you'll like, then you won't watch them. If you don't watch any shows, might as well unsubscribe.

> How is it a shame if nobody uses the reviews

I am not a Netflix user, so this is just a guess, not an analysis. But could it be because user reviews used to be featured more prominently, but they were de-emphasized into oblivion over multiple years and UI updates?

I know a news organization I visit frequently did this to their comment section. After their last UI design, they might as well have been put them the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'.

I used the reviews. Sometimes a movie would be polarizing and I’d read the good ones and the bad ones to see if I’d like it myself. It’s not a hugely valuable feature (I can do the same on eg Rotten Tomatoes), but it wasn’t unused.

Maybe you used it, but overall few people were using it. That's why they got rid of it.

Maybe few people were using it because they made it hard / impossible to use?

70% of Netflix's viewing happens on TV. You couldn't even access user reviews on tv.

15% of Netflix's viewing happens on smart phones and tablets. You couldn't even access user reviews on mobile.

So 85% of Netflix's viewers (TV, phones, tablets) couldn't even access the reviews from their viewing-devices.

You could only access reviews on desktop/laptop... Which accounts for only 15% of Netflix's viewers.

I can believe that's all true. So people now primarily consume the content through interfaces that inherently would make it difficult to interact with reviews. (And I suspect if they did pop up a box asking you to add a review after you watched something that would really annoy everyone.)

In a lot of ways, the user reviews are mostly a vestige of when people used them while adding DVDs to their queue.

They didn’t have it in the UI. There is nothing inherently difficult about browsing reviews on a mobile device. Millions do it every time they’re about to download an app. There is no option to read reviews given to effectively 85% of their viewers. That was their design decision. And now they’re citing review usage numbers when their design decisions promoted low review usage numbers. They’re providing a circular argument which implies that it is not the main reason.

It's not at all hard to "interact with" reviews on mobile or with a remote.

Talking about a popup is a non sequitur, it's not like the web site does that.

I am not surprised at all. When they switched to this percent system, it was clear from then that they want to ensure that there's no chance you'll be turned away from watching something on account of some random human who doesn't have netflix's interests in their heart.

Their new system is clearly based on the data they have on you, and really feels like netflix picking for us rather than helping the user pick on their own. It does not provide much value to me at all.

Reminds me of facebook and how they stopped showing me all of my friends' posts because they thought they knew what I wanted to see.

I eventually left facebook.

It's hard for me to get too upset. Personally, it seems a bit conspiracy theory to think it's people might read negative reviews. Seems more likely it was a poorly used resource and Netflix didn't see the value in continue to support, maintain, and screen it.

That aside, it points to a couple of issues.

There is a lot of bad content on Netflix. It never had a good film catalog and their TV strategy has clearly evolved from at least a supposed "mine data to create great shows" (which always seemed a bit unlikely create all sorts of content, including niche content, throw it at the wall, see what sticks, and plump up the catalog in any case.

Second. No one has come close to solving recommendation. If Amazon, Apple, Netflix, etc. can't (and Facebook ads are a form of recommendation too), I think it's fair to conclude it's a really hard problem that no one knows how to solve well at scale. There are a few people whose taste in movies are very well aligned with mine. But that's not a general solution.

> their TV strategy has clearly evolved from at least a supposed "mine data to create great shows" (which always seemed a bit unlikely create all sorts of content, including niche content, throw it at the wall, see what sticks, and plump up the catalog in any case.

Are you sure? I feel like Netflix is making more data-driven decisions now than ever. If they aren't producing a constant crop of "HBO-quality" show, I would guess that that's because the data is telling them not to.

Consider: television networks have been in Malthusian competition for decades. You'd think the quality of the median TV show would increase. Instead, it seems like the quality of the best TV shows (on every network) consistently increases, but the median show stays the same. Why?

I would personally hypothesize that it's down to a not-oft-mentioned part of consumption psychology: people don't actually want to consume an indefinite stream of high-quality content that they need to give their full attention to at all times, any more than they want an indefinite stream of world-class meals or a radio station that consists only of their favourite music. Nobody has the time, or emotional capacity, to devote to consuming it. People want "bland" content just as much (if not more!) than "rich" content.

And, as licensing deals fall through and Netflix loses both bland and rich content from their catalogue, they have to replace both of those with their own offerings to keep viewers satisfied.

(Have you ever looked in the fridge, and seen that you have the ingredients to make several great meals—but those meals, you are planning to have at specific times with your significant other later in the week; and then realized that you have "nothing to eat" because there are no non-great meals you can make? Consider the television equivalent. That's the problem Netflix is trying to avoid here.)

I would personally hypothesize that it's down to a not-oft-mentioned part of consumption psychology: people don't actually want to consume an indefinite stream of high-quality content that they need to give their full attention to at all times, any more than they want an indefinite stream of world-class meals or a radio station that consists only of their favourite music. Nobody has the time, or emotional capacity, to devote to consuming it. People want "bland" content just as much (if not more!) than "rich" content.

I think this is a brilliant point that immediately resonates. I frequently watch or rewatch pretty formulaic shows, particularly if I’m doing something else at the same time. It’s comforting somehow. At the same time, I actively seek out and consume with undivided attention the best shows that the genre offers. And that’s enjoyable but it’s also...exhausting? That’s too strong a word, but I basically don’t want to do it all the time, just like I don’t want Michelin 3 star restaurants for every meal.

And I’m not alone: a LOT of people I know either split their TV time between the best stuff and the junk food stuff, or only really watch the junk food stuff. It’s interesting, for sure.

Consider: television networks have been in Malthusian competition for decades. You'd think the quality of the median TV show would increase. Instead, it seems like the quality of the best TV shows (on every network) consistently increases, but the median show stays the same.

It’s simple economics. AMC, as an example, doesn’t have to have a ton of great shows to be carried on cable companies and to get them to pay to keep AMC on. They only need the “Walking Dead”. Enough people would be very upset if they couldn’t get that one show via cable.

Sure. They need a variety of content. The number of heavily serialized "great" shows I'm going to watch that may require me to rewatch once or twice and head to the recaps and discussion boards to totally grok what happened this week is extremely limited.

But beyond that, while I'm sure Netflix uses data to allocate money for genres and other types of planning (and help determine whether to keep shows on the air--maybe it's a small audience but they watch every episode 3 times), shows are ultimately creative processes. Casts don't click. Leads become toxic. The audience just doesn't warm to it. No matter what the data said.

> shows are ultimately creative processes

Sure, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm not claiming that Netflix is doing what would look like "intentionally trying and failing to make good content"—because that would produce qualitatively different content than the kind I'm referring to.

An attempt at rich food that tries and fails isn't bland food; it's bad rich food. A bad lasagna or a bad steak isn't going to suddenly taste like nothing. It'll just taste weird. Whereas a bland food is, say, a cucumber sandwich on white bread. Purposefully nothing-y. It won't ever taste exciting or weird.

Netflix is making "Netflix Original" bland TV, purposefully. Daytime soaps, "ghost investigations", prison documentaries, and other low-budget schlock. The data says people want it, just as much as the data says people want rich TV like Black Mirror or OitNB or whatever-else.

> No one has come close to solving recommendation.

What if it isn't solvable? To me it doesn't look like there is enough room to maneuver, at least not in things like movies and TV shows, I think in music there might be. Say a recommendation needs to fulfill the intersection of 2+ things the user likes to feel like a recommendation, for example "you watched space and romance movies, here's a romance in space" otherwise it's just "you watched some space movies, here are some more". I don't think there are enough movies in existence, especially once you apply common criteria like "isn't in a foreign language, isn't on another streaming service, isn't very old or low budget" for these intersections to be filled with more than one or two items. In the space romance example above, the sole example I'm aware of is Passengers, there may be one or two others but it's not enough that you aren't going to deplete the pool even watching casually.

That only leaves extrapolating completely new things I might like based on more general patterns, but that falls victim to the same issue. If you know that I liked Passengers (already difficult without explicit feedback, watched does not mean liked), you have no idea whether I liked it because it had Jennifer Lawrence in it, or because of the tone, or the presentation, or the theme, or any other facet of it. And I only watch tens or hundreds of movies, not the thousands or ideally millions necessary to isolate the fact that I like movies with one very particular tone very slightly more than other movies.

It's still possible to try to recommend as close a match as possible. If no matches, then recommend based on actor, director, producer, etc. Currently Netflix just throws in the towel and recommends some completely unrelated content.

I remember reading a blog post somewhere describing the problem with modern recommendation engines being their reactive nature. Say you purchase a cell phone on Amazon -- they'll start showing you other cell phones, cell phone accessories, more electronics, etc. The problem is, you just bought a phone -- you don't need 5 more, and you max need 1 or 2 cases. So the recommendations are garbage, since the engine has no way of knowing what your current mindset is and what you actually might be interested in.

In hindsight, that's obvious, but it struck me at the time. I don't ever want to see my thoughts get read by a computer (personal choice), but until such technology exists, recommendation engines will continue to suck.

There are a bunch of problems.

Paul Lamere has done a number of talks on the topic at SXSW and the like. I know him from Sun Labs but I think he's at Spotify these days.


> the engine has no way of knowing what your current mindset is and what you actually might be interested in

You'd think, with enough data, you could build causal models of purchases of product types.

Amazon certainly has associative models (people who buy this also buy that)—it seems like they would just need to add a temporal dimension to the input data.

> It never had a good film catalog

This is false. I remember in 2007/2008 using Netflix a lot to get some really amazing and hard to find movies. The same was true of their streaming service in its infancy. Now they seem to have abandoned their movie selection altogether and are focusing on making their own stuff. I'm guessing it's because licensing became a huge headache for them.

The cost of licensing has certainly gone up in general. But even quite a few years back a then-Netflix exec told me that people came to Netflix for the movies but ended up staying for TV.

Netflix recommendation system is a joke today, but it used to be much better in the past. Executives have decided to dumb it down for marketing reasons (promoting their own shows, hiding how their catalog is limited, etc...).

> No one has come close to solving recommendation.

Try this app and we'll talk:


> No one has come close to solving recommendation.

Recommendation is a solved problem from a computer science point of view. The problem with recommendation systems is that their outputs always get overridden by political and marketing concerns.

It's clearly what happened to Netflix. Do you remember when Netflix was the infamous leader in movie recommendations? Do you remember the Netflix prize?

It's hard for me to get too upset. Personally, it seems a bit conspiracy theory to think it's people might read negative reviews.

I agree. Why would I care about whether reviews are positive or negative about a movie before I started watching it? It’s not like I have spent money if 30 minutes in I realize it’s trash.

I feel the same way about movie reviews now that I have AMC subscription movie service. If a movie is bad, We’ve wasted nothing except for 2 hours of our life and a little gas money.

For me personally, if I lose half an hour, I lose as much money as I get for half an hour of work.

That's why I love content recommendation systems which actually work. Though the downside is, that today's systems (looking at you, Spotify) close you in kind of a bubble.

The best I've met was Google play music, the recommendations were great and at the same time you got to know a lot of great content unlike anything you've heard before! I switched, because unfortunately it seemed like nobody was working on it anymore.

I keep seeing people equate every hour they spend on X as the same amount of opportunity cost of they were working. Do you measure how much time you sleep, spend with your family, eating etc. in the same way?

I work 40-45 hours a week. Even when I am doing contract work, I limit the time I’m working. I don’t equate the 8 hours I spend working out to lost wages either.

Nah, this way I count 1. Wasted hours 2. How much my vacation is actually worth.

This seems like it would make you a workaholic / crazy, but in fact at least for me, it makes me value the time more and make a bigger effort to spend it well.

It also makes it easy to decide if buying something that's meant to save me time is worth it, cause it's a simple "time saved" vs cost calculation.

Time spent sleeping is special, because I know how bad I function and unhappy I am if I sleep too short for an extended period of time and it actually equates to days wasted.

It’s not that complicated for me. There are certain things I just don’t want to do and gladly pay money to have someone else do the work.

I don’t like doing yard work and I will happily pay the going rate for someone else to do it. I don’t like going to the gym or working out outside - By the time it is all said and done, I’ll spend way more than the accumulated hours I’m saving by not driving to and from the local gym.

I don’t buy this “what my time is worth” argument. Can you really say that if you weren’t watching a Netflix show, you would be working for pay? That assumes that (1) your sole leisure activity is Netflix, and (2) you can work 24 hours a day if you want to. It seems dubious at best.

Well, I do sometimes read reviews. But there's no shortage of reviews on the Internet and Netflix was never a particularly great source of them.

I've noticed for a while that Netflix seems to be making it a lot harder to rate content and find high quality content. It's like they want you to watch junk. Maybe junk has lower licensing fees so it increases their margins.

I've found some amazing gems digging through Netflix and relying on user ratings. They were films I probably never would have found otherwise. A few somewhat recent examples that come to mind are Enter the Void, The Discovery, Upstream Color, and A Dark Song.

> Maybe junk has lower licensing fees so it increases their margins.

It has to be something like this. Licensing fees based on views, or maybe the license terms stipulate that they're not allowed to promote it or something.

Often I'll be browsing around in some deep page in Netflix and randomly see some AAA major Oscar title that's not mentioned or promoted anywhere. It just makes no sense.

Maybe these are expensive views, so Netflix reserves surfacing them only for people who have taken actions that indicate they're having trouble finding anything they like?

To kind of "rescue" users who are on the verge of cancelling?

I've noticed that too. Looking and looking for a certain type of thing, can't find anything worthwhile until, randomly, something good in the you might like trio which should have obviously shown up in the genre browsing.

If you like Enter the Void, have you seen Irreversible?

[Edit: typo]

I can see why they would do it. When I cancelled them 2 years ago their selection was kind of limited. Lots B movies and average or below titles. A lot of reviews were the same. Reading made me not watch a lot of them. Deleting the reviews hides the below average movie selection under the carpet in a way.

I believe this as well. Since years now I have the very strong suspicion that they aren't all optimizing for me finding something great but rather to waste my time on their platform and hide that I in fact might have already watched everything I'll like. But then I'll sometimes find something in there only after some digging that obviously should have been heavily suggested to me.

That's exactly what it feels like for me too! I get suggested all sorts of terrible stuff, but sometimes I'll be digging about in a category and find something interesting. But then the show has 7 seasons and netflix only has season 3, and calls it season 1.

I've started to just let the lapse in membership run for longer; that way i can (hopefully) come back to some worthwhile stuff in 6 months.

> “Netflix customers were able to leave reviews on Netflix.com until mid-2018, when reviews were removed due to declining use.”

I still think this was done on purpose to an extent. In the beginning the reviews were really easy to find when you were looking to see if you wanted to spend time watching something. As they "upgraded" their UI on the web they really buried it and made it more difficult to find. I had to use the netflix help a few times just to find it near the end. And with most people now using the app on a smart tv or roku, fire tv, ect, they never integrated the reviews into those apps. So to me its saying declining use is of course it was, the only way to get to it was having a laptop handy to check. At that point you can read reviews from any other site.

Are there alternatives to Netflix? Amazon Prime certainly isn't. Serious question - especially for German audience. I would like something with older and more niche movies. F.x. on Netflix Germany neither is nor ever was a Fellini flick ... actually "Federico Fellini" is not even suggested upon searching for "Fellini".


- Fandor: only US and CAN

- Mubi: also Germany

- Filmstruck: not Germany

- Yaddo: apparently worldwide

(skipped what didn't appeal to me)

Kanopy is incredible if you want quality curated worldwide content. Free with your library card, at least in LA.

Filmstruck for criterion collection and worldwide classical cinema. $80/y.

If you have amazon prime you get some blockbusters for free.

Some att plans include hbo go.

Netflix still has some good documentaries but their new releases have been low quality, except possibly for black mirror.

Kanopy looks quite interesting and seems to be available from Germany.

EDIT: I don't get it ... seems like a special service for people registered a library or university !? :/

In the US it works if you have a free library card.

I can’t recommend it enough. The collection is well curated. It has a lot of great educational content as well.

Australia has 'Stan'. It's good for content. It feels like the old Netflix.

Kind of. I run Streama https://github.com/streamaserver/streama

Combined with ripped dvds and/or pirate bay, can make for a refreshing video streaming service you own and host.

I left my bootlegging days behind ...

Time for moonshine again then, because you're not getting it any other way. I work in TV and Film industry (also in Europe) and there's just no way, no service, which will give you things you're after. Probably all of my peers pirate, it's the way it is. I even pirate my own content, because it's more convenient then asking for a master copy and getting it from the archive. No one loses any money out of it. Industry knows that. Netflix did damage to the industry and to themselves though. Lynda Obst talks about it here (how Netflix did damage): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_oHW31jQfg

I wrote, in detail, several times here why Netflix and similar will never (in foreseeable future) crack the code with their business model in this industry. And no, you can't draw analogies with music and games. It's a vastly different business, even though it might seem it's not.

I have a Netfilx account and yet torrent all their stuff because I watch on my monitor and can't stand watching videos on a browser. I don't watch Youtube on a browser either.

Using stuff like Radarr/Sonarr/Jackett/... makes for a higher quality experience.

How is watching a movie or a clip in a browser on full screen not highest possible quality experience? What is gained from not watching in a browser?

Some examples are:

- A lot less CPU intensive

- Offline watching

- Not limited to one system (especially for some quality versions)

- Audio only

- Easy bookmarking

- Every option a good video player can offer, from Audio/Video/Subtitles tweaking

And so many more.

If you use Windows, Netflix has a native Windows app that uses hardware decoding and DRM so you get both less CPU/battery usage and higher resolution.

Chinese here. How do you guys reconcile your own torrenting, usage of sci-hub etc with the tendency to portray us as monsters for "theft of American intellectual property"?

I'm granting that we did (and on a large enough scale) for the sake of argument.

Is the idea that it's okay to steal so long as it's stealing from the rich and powerful (netflix, disney, record labels whatever)? If so, do you see how that argument might be something we can also appeal to?

(I would add "genuinely curious", but I feel it's become a device not for canceling for but for indicating sarcasm, so I won't do it)

I don't think normal Americans would portray you as monsters for this. Of course, the MPAA and RIAA would complain, since it is their business.

There are other types of intellectual property that are much more likely to upset normal Americans. This includes trade secrets, trademarks, and possibly patents. Trade secrets are stolen by hacking, by forcing American companies to give them up in exchange for market access, and by employees who fail to abide by non-disclosure agreements. Trademarks are stolen by simply making clones, or sometimes by unauthorized operation of a legitimate factory in China. For example, I have a USB power adapter marked "SAMSUNG" that clearly isn't made by Samsung. This is very common, and these devices often catch fire or damage the electronics that are attached. Patents can sometimes be an issue, with Chinese companies able to evade enforcement.

I think of it like this...

When USA was new, we were a bastion of creativity. We didn't acknowledge the Old Country's laws on intellectual property, and we were the better for it. Things were crazy; you did stuff and you didn't let someone else that the thing in your head had ownership by someone else. There was a long period in which our goods were beneath European quality.

Not much time passes, and new and unique things were made here. The regime for patent/copyright protection got just as authoritarian and wicked in protecting 'stuff'. Hollywood was one such case - in which the devices to make movies was patented and the company that made them wanted their cut. The escape to California was to avoid those fees.

Again, China's been playing the same long game. "Rip off others' IP, allow extreme growth by being very liberal with copyright/patent, and eventually playing very protectionist once the economy is stable and advanced". This isn't anything unique with China, or the US, or anyone else.

> How do you guys reconcile your own torrenting,

Because once a country hits the protectionist point, they usually go way overboard and stifle all sorts of things. It pisses people off - is it really piracy if you buy a blu-ray and download it? Is it really piracy if you download a turd film and delete it? There's a lot of edge cases that are called piracy which in reality aren't. It's just called that cause Disney et al have lobbied to call it that.

Also, as I have gotten more money, I have been more willing to pay for media. When I was poorer, I was spending perhaps $10 for a ticket per every 6 months to a movie.

> usage of sci-hub etc

Sci-hup and "academic piracy" is a whole different ballgame. Predatory firms have put paywalls in place that alienate the creators of the papers, the reviewers of the papers, and the academics who use the papers, for $37 a paper. These predatory firms add nothing, and deserve to die. But again, this is completely different than movie/tv/music media.

> with the tendency to portray us as monsters

Humans have a bad tendency to 'otherize' people. See, you're Chinese, and not in my peer group, so my decisions have little effect on you. I can also have a poor opinion of you (having not even know you!) and people in my peer group don't care too much.

And it happens the other way around. Americans (USA) are horrible aggressors and evil empire and bad. Lots of places agree with that. But they don't know me, my friends, or my social groups. And in the end, other people 'otherize' the US, knowing what happens in DC isn't what we're like where we live.

It's best to think of this as "out of sight, out of mind, out of emotion". Because it is all too easy to consider someone else on a different point on this planet as "monsters". Eventually, we'll change that; although I think the internet like here is doing the ground work.

Let's be real. They didn't delete the user reviews. They just stopped showing the reviews to the user.

While not legally 'censorship' we should develop a culture where such arbitrary deletions are heavily frowned upon.

I'm glad they did this because: 1) I didn't realize there were written reviews; and 2) I have found Netflix's move to up or down, and a percent recommendation a good move. For instance, I'm a sucker for space movies of any sort, I just love them, and they have picked up on that and recommended me a few movies I would have never watched if I just went to rotten tomatoes. I don't need social validation to enjoy or not enjoy content.

It's not a perfect system, but it's better then anything else out there.

I found the star ratings useful and wish they were on the main browsing page so I do have to click into a movie to see the details.

That said I actually loath Netflix's UI. I'm sure they have some metric which shows it works but I hate hate hate the instant preview/playback. I want to browse quietly reading the descriptions and then possibly checking the internet but the distraction of Netflix starting the auto play makes that impossible for me so I end up just turning it off and googling for things to watch. This usually fails so I watch nothing.

My current pattern is wait for a friend to recommend something and then subscribe and a few days later cancel my subscription. In the month I have the service i rarely turn it on the browse because of the aforementioned issue. When I do convince myself to try to browse the issue comes up again and I just turn it off. I probably pay for 1 to 3 months a year. Kudos to Netflix for not forcing a yearly subscription otherwise I'd just find other sources

For me, the value of Spotify is much higher than Netflix, because it gives me access to the best music while former contains a small collection of mostly shitty TV shows. I cancelled Netflix few years ago and never regret it. There are much better video content providers, for example The Great Courses Plus is my favorite even if it's twice more expensive than Netflix

Offtopic: there's nothing more hilarious than to read the reviews after having watched a bad movie. However, I use IMDB for that.

IMDB also got rid of their forums. Such gold in there

Alternately to look at how bad the reviews were for titles I enjoyed, but which I suspected enjoying would brand me a philistine. I'm looking at you Valerian ;)

The biggest problem with the Netflix content discovery algorithm is that it's in total conflict with Netflix's brand management, and brand management will always win.

By far their most prominent platform for brand impressions is what the user sees when they first log in and view their home page. So what displays on that screen is of vital importance to their brand management team, and what kind of content they associate with that brand is everything.

Which is the reason why when I log into Netflix as a middle-aged software developer who watches war documentaries, true crime series, and old episodes of Frasier, I see a wall of hot focus-grouped twenty-somethings pulling their hair out and trying to fuck each other.

Because Netflix is young and cool and I just need to get with it, and if I can't get with it then that's my problem. Because Netflix is fierce. Netflix is the pulse of a new generation.

I didn't know until today that there were user reviews on Netflix.

I started the free trial maybe two years ago. I can't recall reviews. I remember the star ratings, though.

So much negativity. Netflix is doing OK. In watch with pleasure their shows and movies and don't even miss any of the mainstream TV. But this is not what my thoughts are: in days of modern data collection votes/reviews are useless. Self-reported data is notoriously unreliable and replacing it with behavioural pattern tracking is smart a smart move.

I used to read reviews on a movie I was on the fence about watching. I used the 5 star rating for the same reason. Now I have no information to guide me and in the last month, I have started several movies and stopped watching after 10 minutes because they sucked. Then there's the week delay to send in the DVD and have another one arrive by mail. This makes the service worse in my opinion.

Why not just look the movie up on an actual review site?

I could, but I use Netflix on Tivo, so it's right there on the TV. I would have to go to another device.

Recently, I watched a few horror movies because they got good ratings (which I interpret as good-for-a-horror-movie, rather than good per se). Between seeing the rating, watching (half usually) of them and going to rate it myself, the ratings had gone from 4-5 stars to 1-2. That's a big drop in star rating in a period of, at most, 90 minutes, usually, 40.

For personalized movie recommendations http://www.gnovies.com is a nice alternative.

I wonder if movie reviews could be done via ActivityPub somehow.

Netflix's stupid UX and recommendation engine, will be the end of it!

I love Netflix, I prefer shows being payed for by subs not Burger advertising agencies. Regular cable TV is about the eyeballs- the shows are just a way to get them.

Now someone needs to create a site that will collect reviews from imdb, metacritic or rotten tomatoes, only Netflix related. Will this be legal after all?

Wow I've never seen parallax ads before.. I kinda like them, as long as they're in the minority so they're refreshing.

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