As I was researching a short, folksie blog-piece on NETFLIX, I ran across much more detail than I bargained for. The information was so vast and up-to-date that it was going to make any topical comment irrelevant. What I discovered was “personalization.” This is described in benign primers from the company: “Through multi-armed bandit algorithms, we hunted for the best artwork for a title, say Stranger Things, that would earn the most plays from the largest fraction of our members. However, given the enormous diversity in taste and preferences, wouldn’t it be better if we could find the best artwork for each of our members to highlight the aspects of a title that are specifically relevant to them?”
Corporate Sop? Stranger Things appears under several categories that may or may not matter to me. Tagged as “Science Fiction from the Eighties” or “Scary Science Fiction With A Hint of E.T.,” the show had plenty of press build up. Does the company presume to be doing me a favor supplying artwork that appeals to me personally as if appealing on a communal level wasn’t enough? Maybe the doctoring of indexed thumbnails will make me more apt to choose a title? I was going to watch Stranger Things regardless of the advertising. I dug the music too: “Moody 80’s Synth.” As wary digester of this content, I scroll through the “modified” list of titles and categories. New titles pop up for perusal based on what you watched previously. Because I enjoyed Godless, a fabulous Western – devoured quickly – they bring up Hickok, which was a lousy Western. Wild Bill with short hair? Come on! Are we lemmings? Don’t answer that.
NETFLIX content enters your home streaming without notice. So what if they casually tailor to your specific demographic and identity politics? Is that so wrong? No different from Google, Spotify or Facebook. NETFLIX effortlessly dishes up graphic sex and gooey violence like anything on HBO or SHOWTIME but it is fancier in its targeting. The doctored meta-data delivers images that go straight to the heart of the content. Are you looking for an evil man’s face or a partially clad victim as illustration? Perhaps a bloody knife? Not sure if they brand for that in their little trailers that run on an infuriating loop. Keep a lookout for ghastly morgue shots. Your favorite actors may show up on a slab with a red maw where their chest used to be. Strange categories stand out: Next to “Nordic Noir” is “Northern European Crime Drama with Murdered Teenage Prostitutes By A Lake.” You can’t go wrong. Please keep those coming NETFLIX! Some films are Oscar-ready so you don’t have to race off to the deafening Mini-Plex! Some Algorithmic Categories have no titles yet. Some are desperately thin and disappointing. If you are in a Casablanca kind of mood, you may search Humphrey Bogart and find only his Oscar-Winning role in African Queen. Millennials will ask Humphrey-Who? Search “Pedophile Directors” and you will find Woody Allen has only one film on NETFLIX.
The NETFLIX digital video-store came out of nowhere. Within a few years they nearly replaced cable and broadcast. It has lead NETFLIX to near monopoly of consumer entertainment. Billions is now being set aside for new top-notch content. A good thing. Big Stars are tempted to make NETFLIX ORIGINALS for the not so “small screen.” It’s a good career move. Has this increased the demand for high quality? It seems so. Actors and directors are fully employed. Scriptwriters reach new heights. Maybe NETFLIX will put dire Reality TV phenomenon out of business.
What is striking is the binge element. There is no waiting week by week to catch up on a show. You can watch a whole series in a night or two. Several series if you are unemployed. Is there too much? Never. Now, I’m annoyed when I meet the oddball who doesn’t have NETFLIX. They live on a different planet, Amazon Prime. I can’t discuss The Crown with them, Stranger Things 2 or Hitler’s Super Weapons. Sometimes we watch via my wife’s list of titles. She watches a lot of subtitled Foreign Films and Space Westerns. Are they modified too? Yes, the minimally invasive cover shots change! Is that really so worrying for George Orwell types? It goes further. I am informed by my tech-team that the next flat-screen we buy will have the NETFLIX embedded, making it even more ubiquitous, no PlayStation needed. Will it vacuum the living room rug next?