Netflix shows we lost to the algorithm

Isabella Finn

Netflix algorithms have the miraculous ability to predict what we want to watch. Re-occurring themes in what we choose to watch has a ripple effect on what the streaming service will then recommend. And for the most part, they get it right.

The intention of the algorithm, as stated by Netflix, is to “help you find a show or movie to enjoy with minimal effort”. To do this they monitor titles you have previously watched or searched. They also take into account what time of day you use the streaming service.

While they don’t take gender or age into consideration they do monitor what devices you watch Netflix on and for how long. Apparently this is all key to create the most binge worthy Netflix profile perfectly tailored to you. Although genres play a major factor in what the algorithm selects for you it’s the “threads” of the genre that make the difference.

For example, watching one comedy film won’t alter the Recommended For You selection titles, but watching three disaster rom-coms with a leading lady in a week will have a massive impact. The algorithm will then present rom-coms with leading ladies specifically for you, not just any old slapstick Jim Carey job.

But computers, algorithms and AI aren’t always fool proof. It’s unrealistic to assume and trust that the streaming site knows you well enough to cater for all of your entertainment needs. This just means that we may miss out on shows and movies that we will absolutely love but they are not lost forever.

A Netflix show that slipped under the radar at the beginning of 2020 was “Locke & Key”. Based on a comic book series of the same name, “Locke & Key” is a 10 episode supernatural drama horror. Written by Joe Hill, son of horror genius Stephen King, the story follows three siblings struggling with grief after their father’s death and the discovery of reality twisting keys that grant them unusual abilities.

“Locke & Key” also hosts characters of diverse up bringing’s and abilities and includes double amputee actor Eric Graise. The story illustrates some adult themes incorporating alcohol misuse and violence in some episodes which rated for viewing 15. Despite this the show was marketed as family friendly and that kiss of death pushed it to the bottom of algorithmic viewing lists.

“Locke & Key” reminds the viewer of grown up versions of children’s fantasy classics like “Series of Unfortunate Events”, “Spiderwick Chronicles” and “Narnia”. All the magic but with more realistic consequences.

Marketing for the programme also missed the mark which saw a sluggish entry onto Netflix’s recommendation lists. This is predictable of an algorithm, how is maths and science supposed to predict what we watched and enjoyed as kids? It can’t, instead it recommends Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” once again.

Change is great but how are we supposed to combat an algorithm and find what we really would enjoy? There is a quick fix to this; search for programs yourself.

Isabella Finn

Image Credit: Isabella Finn