Netflix is changing the way its viewers respond to the shows, movies, and specials they watch. The streaming service has officially gotten rid of its star-based rating system in exchange for a simple thumbs up/thumbs down model, which it says will allow it to give better recommendations.
Netflix revealed its intention to usher in a thumbs-based model last month. At the time, the company’s VP of product, Todd Yellin, noted there was a big disconnect between the way people rated content and their actual viewing habits. “What’s more powerful: you telling me you would give five stars to the documentary about unrest in the Ukraine; that you’d give three stars to the latest Adam Sandler movie; or that you’d watch the Adam Sandler movie 10 times more frequently?” he said. “What you do versus what you say you like are different things.”
In officially changing its ratings, Netflix echoed that sentiment, noting that the new system will allow the service to offer stronger recommendations. As part of that updated engine, Netflix will offer a personalized percentage that reveals how much it expects any particular viewer to enjoy a certain show. If you’ve given thumbs up to, say, NBC sitcoms like 30 Rock and Parks & Recreation, Netflix may tell you you’re 95% likely to laugh at Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as well.
A thumbs-based model also lets Netflix clear up misconceptions about how its ratings work. Rather than serving as advice for others, your opinions are factored into your own profile. A Netflix blog post explains:
Netflix has had star ratings for much of our history, but we’ve learned through over a year of testing that while we’ve used stars to help you personalize your suggestions, many of our members are confused about what they do.
That’s because we’ve all gotten used to star ratings on e-commerce and review apps, where rating contributes to an overall average, and the star rating shown next to a restaurant or a pair of shoes is an average of all the reviewers. On those apps, being a reviewer can be fun and helpful to others, but the primary goal isn’t always to help you get better suggestions.
In contrast, when people see thumbs, they know that they are used to teach the system about their tastes with the goal of finding more great content. That’s why when we tested replacing stars with thumbs we saw an astounding 200% increase in ratings activity.
Netflix has reportedly been de-emphasizing its star ratings for years, so it’s not surprising to see the company move away from them entirely. We’ll see if the thumbs up/thumbs down rubric has the desired effect on the service’s recommendation system.