Netflix knows you have horrible taste

Interviews with company executives reveal its recommendation engine is more comprehensive than you might think

Topics: the daily dot, Netflix, Movies, DVDs, Cocaine, Hot Tub Time Machine, streaming video, Maid in Manhattan, , ,

Netflix knows you have horrible taste
This article originally appeared on The Daily Dot.

The Daily Dot The Netflix recommendation engine can be baffling. “Why is it suggesting that religious children’s cartoon?” we often ask, or, “Why didn’t it tell me I would like this gritty documentary about cocaine smugglers in the 1980s?” Strangest of all is when the site encourages you to watch a film that it thinks you’ll give a two-star rating.

There’s a science to all these automated decisions, of course, however little we believe it. At one point Netflix was even sponsoring a contest to improve the recommendation system, though some winning fixes were never implemented because the company’s model had changed: Users were streaming more content instantly and getting fewer DVDs in the mail.

In a post for Underwire, Tom Vanderbilt grilled Carlos Gomez-Uribe, vice president of product innovation and personalization algorithms, and Xavier Amatriain, engineering director, about how the engine works in an era when viewers are streaming about 4 billion hours of Netflix per quarter.

The first surprise was that a user’s contributive data went far beyond ratings and that little survey about your taste preferences—Netflix is clocking your activity as closely as possible. According to Amatriain:

“We know what you played, searched for, or rated, as well as the time, date, and device. We even track user interactions such as browsing or scrolling behavior. All that data is fed into several algorithms, each optimized for a different purpose. In a broad sense, most of our algorithms are based on the assumption that similar viewing patterns represent similar user tastes. We can use the behavior of similar users to infer your preferences.”

They even know which device is being used? Maybe I shouldn’t have given my brother my password. Yes, the upshot to this conversation is that you cannot lie to Netflix. You can’t “accidentally” watch the first five minutes of “Maid in Manhattan” without beaming that info straight to 800 engineers at their corporate HQ.

Because of data like this, Gomez-Uribe couldn’t help but note that we are not the cultured sophisticates we pretend to be: “A lot of people tell us they often watch foreign movies or documentaries. But in practice, that doesn’t happen very much,” he said.

As for those pesky two-star recommendations? “People rate movies like “Schindler’s List” high,” Gomez Uribe explained, “as opposed to one of the silly comedies I watch, like “Hot Tub Time Machine.” If you give users recommendations that are all four- or five-star videos, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually want to watch that video on a Wednesday night after a long day at work. Viewing behavior is the most important data we have.”

In other words, Netflix caters to your secret terrible tastes and is even working on getting the algorithm to spit out movies based on what time of the day or week it is. Just imagine the drunk-loner-targeted trash they’ll tell you to watch at 2am on Friday night!

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...