Netflix Explains How It Comes Up With Its Recommendations

Sometimes Netflix is able to peek deep into your soul and tell you exactly which movies you’ll want to watch next, and other times it suggests Power Rangers Samurai. The company is now offering a behind the curtain to explain how it plays matchmaker with you and all the lonely movies out there.

According to the Netflix Tech Blog, which brags that 75 percent of everything people watch is due to one of its recommendations, you can blame some of its screwier suggestions on the poor tastes of other members of your household. Everything you watch plays into movies the service digs up and recommends to you.

Analyzing your viewing history, ratings and friends’ recommendations, Netflix creates rows of recommendations in genres and sub-genres, hoisting certain subsets higher on the page to grab your attention. The system works to expand your horizons by giving preference to its newest additions, as well as emphasizing diversity.

Netflix’s recommendations are sometimes weirdly off base, but probably become more accurate the more you use the service. If nothing else, the post is a warning to discourage household members from soiling your Netflix profile with poor choices.

Netflix Recommendations: Beyond the 5 stars (Part 1) [Netflix Tech Blog via Engadget]


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  1. Murph1908 says:

    I only wish they’d come up with a way to separate kids recommendations from mine. My son watches his videos on streaming, and my recommendation list is dominated by movies for him.

    Should be pretty simple, and not require multiple movie queues or accounts. Keep our one DVD queue, that’s fine. Just put in an option to view Murph’s or Little Murph’s recommendations.

    • caradrake says:

      Yes, this! I want a way to set up subaccounts for me, my husband, and my kids. They actually *like* Power Rangers Samurai. And all of the other Power Ranger franchises.

      I want to be able to down-rate a movie, or put it on a way to completely block it, while allowing my husband to up-vote or have it visible. This is fairly extreme, but even the cover art of the Saw movies freak me out, yet he loves that sort of stuff.

      • erinpac says:

        Could have some interesting results though… without subqueues is that sort of viewing history contribuiting to linking Saw to Power Rangers Samarai as viable recommendations for users that watch one or the other?

    • Princesssookeh says:

      Same here. MY little brothers watch the most annoying shit imaginable.

    • NotEd says:

      When you got actual physical DVDs you could have sub-queues with their own recommendations.
      Unfortunately the streaming side of things has only a single queue, as I learned when my family dropped DVD delivery after the whole “Quixster” ruckus and pricing change. My personal sub-queue had been for our DVD deliveries and I lost access to all of it when we went streaming only.
      I wonder if it would still be saved somewhere if we added physical media delivery back to our account?

    • history_theatrestudent says:

      That be a path with a very slippery slope that I’d rather not head down. Sure creating sub-account today would be nice, but by the time that Netflix has to do another round of renegotiate on contracts with content providers in a few years they’ll be pressured by them and their own balance sheets to treat the bundle as a family plan rather than one account with a few sub-list or sub-accounts. Rather than paying one rate you’d be paying say $10 (what it may be to for instant watch in a few years) for the first account, then say $8 for the second and $6 for every additional list up to a certain maximum.

  2. Bativac says:

    And sometimes, what I want to watch, deep in my soul, IS Power Rangers Samurai.

  3. Conformist138 says:

    I can understand the diverse tastes of different people having a play in this- My netflix account has been used to entertain kids, so I get that a row of “Family Fun” will be created despite the fact that I never watched Barbie’s Princess Adventure or whatever.

    What I don’t usually get are the leaps from “You watched these two films” to “These belong in the same category” to “These other films are also in this category.”

    My favorite said that based on my interest in The Brady Bunch Movie and Striptease (together at last!), I must like “Feel Good Movies” (I have a suspicion that Striptease causes a different good feeling than The Brady Bunch), and thus I would enjoy the stand-up of Jim Gaffigan (which I have already watched). It was a total “WTF?!” moment since no elements actually matched on any level.

    • Conformist138 says:

      Also, not that anyone will believe me, but I didn’t watch those two films- that would be a friend with possibly the worst taste in movies I have ever encountered. The few times she’s used my Netflix resulted in my recommendations looking like a Worst Films list on Rotten Tomatoes.

    • Cat says:

      “I never watched Barbie’s Princess Adventure”

      Sure. Sure you didn’t.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Actually, I think “Brady Bunch Striptease” would be a pretty popular movie.

  4. droidor says:

    “Analyzing your viewing history, ratings and friends’ recommendations, Netflix creates rows of recommendations in genres and sub-genres, hoisting certain subsets higher on the page to grab your attention.” did they not pay big bucks for a competition where teams designed the algorithm that best matched the viewing preferences? I remember that they at least had it two years in a row.

  5. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Sometimes I’ll watch something out of my norm, which throws things off.

    For instance, I’m a big Doctor Who fan, as well as BBC’s Top Gear. I also watched Sherlock and Jekyel & Hyde via Netflix. So no problem, it recommends BBC shows.

    Then I watch (and enjoy) Season 1 of Downton Abby. Since then, all I have suggested to me is British tv series set in the past.

    Though I do appreciate it when I watch a slew of sci-fi movies, and it suggests a sci-fi movie I never heard of, but end up enjoying (like Hunter Prey).

    • Biblio Fiend says:

      My Netflix account is currently telling me that since I liked Downton Abbey (which I did) that I would also like Archer. Both good TV shows but I’m not sure how their system brought them from Downton (soapy Brit drama/humor) to Archer (raunchy American cartoon).

  6. Silverhawk says:

    I also have to question how valid all of their categorization data is for all films. I suspect they don’t have enough sub-genres in some areas, and have poor categorization in others.

  7. Jemish says:

    And so …what? …This post was an advertisement for Netflix on Consumerist?

  8. suez says:

    I’m the kind of viewer who breaks these mechanisms. I’ll enjoy a documentary one night, a foreign film the next, then a couple episodes of Law & Order or Deadliest Catch, then catch up on Downton Abbey before finishing with True Lies. Take that!

  9. a354174 says:

    Power Rangers Samurai is what I really wanted to watch.

  10. SerenityDan says:

    I’m pretty sure it recommended Power Rangers Samurai because I was watching all the other Power Rangers shows. What you got against Power Rangers Phil?

  11. costanza007 says:

    Answer: Maths. It really is just a regression model.

  12. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

    Netflix is OBSESSED with Power Rangers Samurai.


  13. CrankyOwl says:

    What’s weird is if you give a movie only a 1-star rating, it immediately pops up with “other movies you might enjoy”, which are in the same genre. WTH?

  14. Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

    I let my friend use my account for ONE day and next thing you know Netflix recommends “Violent Cult Supernatural Thrillers”. wtf!

  15. scoosdad says:

    Amazon’s purchase recommendations can be equally weird at times. Honestly I think there’s some back-channel money changing hands that grease the skids on some of these recommendations.

  16. LabGnome says:

    ” you can blame some of its screwier suggestions on the poor tastes of other members of your household.”

    I wish they would allow separate profiles for an account. I don’t rate stuff anymore since there is little point. My family watches way more than I can so recommendations are all sorts of whack (I rate, they don’t, but they watch all the TV).

    Just a thought, still enjoy the service it is just a way I see for improvement. :)

  17. Brian says:

    Friends recommendations? Exactly how large was the rock that the writer of the original article was living under? Netflix dropped all of its “friends” functionality 2 years ago.

  18. brinks says:

    Netflix’s recommendations can be pretty good. They recommended a great show that I’d never heard of called Solving History. It was recommended because I like Ancient Aliens. It actually debunks lots of stuff from that show, which is absolutely shocking, but I was happy with that recommendation.

    On the other hand, it recommended some zombie movie because I like How I Met Your Mother. I also like the Walking Dead, but it clearly gave the reasons for recommending the zombie movie, and the zombie TV show wasn’t on the list.

    It also once recommended a Care Bears movie, even though my household’s queue is mostly aliens, ghosts, sci fi, and action.

  19. dwtomek says:

    Having had a single user account for a few years now Netflix rarely throws me a curveball. I would guess they usually pick movies I enjoy… Maybe nine times out of ten. I have to imagine that kind of accuracy is greatly diminished with each extra user an account has though, unless they have strangely similar tastes.

  20. Greggen says:

    I pranked my brother using the recommendations.
    We get together every other week and watch dvds or netflix shows.. He rarely uses the instant queue so I knew he would not know when and I added a couple of gay films (not that there is anything wrong with that) to his queue while he was out of the room..
    Anywho.. Afterwords his recommendations leaned towards, lets say ‘different’ selections that he would normally choose.. He could not figure it out for the longest time when he did he was pissed, but now sees the humor it in..

  21. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I like to go through and rate as many movies as I can that I’ve seen sometimes. So far it’s gotten me pretty good recommendations. I’ve found movies I might not have chosen or even noticed based on some of those.

    Recently I’ve been exploring their foreign film section (not big enough; more Netflix, more!) and found Kaidan, a Japanese period ghost story, and Ponette, a heartbreaking French film, that I really enjoyed.

  22. Rhinoguy says:

    My complaint with their recommendations is simple. Please don’t recommend movies that I have already seen or are currently in my queue. Is that too much to ask?

  23. kimmie says:

    My biggest pet peeve. Those of us on streaming only plans cannot rate movies that are DVD only. Which means there is a huge catalog of movies not counting toward our recommendations. I very much dislike this.Surely they can seperate their ratings database from the permissions database.