Stories You’ll Love: Matchmaking Through Personalization

Todd Yellin, VP of Product Innovation at Netflix, is the man behind the site’s tailored recommendations, allowing you to choose from Netflix categories such as “Imaginative Time Travel Movies from the 1980s” or “Dark Tearjerkers Featuring a Strong Female Lead.” Yellin’s personalization algorithm helps, in his words, “create audiences for films that would never be viewed otherwise.”

Below, Yellin offers some insight into Netflix’s recommendations and how the site responds to what we watch and where:

1. Star Ratings Aren’t as Straightforward as They Might Appear

Netflix used to rely heavily on ratings to make recommendations to viewers. It was an effective strategy for “cold starting” with completely new users who were instantly hooked on the streaming service after seeing the hottest current movie or TV show. But Netflix soon discovered people rate things for all kinds of reasons. For example, TV series typically have higher ratings than movies, because people investing the time to watch multiple episodes already like the show, so they’re more likely to rate it higher. It’s a big reason why Netflix is de-emphasizing explicit inputs like ratings and more effectively leveraging its data collection to build a personalized recommendation system around each user.

2. People Act Differently Under Their “Internet Faces”

In the age of the Internet, we’re all a little self-conscious… so we put on our “Internet Face.” This means that if we feel like someone is going to judge us for giving a movie like Mall Cop five stars, we probably won’t do it, even if we loved the film. Anonymity in star ratings improves honesty, but it’s ultimately a fickle measurement tool. Cold, hard data allows Netflix to look beyond “Internet Faces” and perform an honest appraisal of your preferences.

3. TV is Changing; In Fact, It’s Already Changed

Yellin offers three predictions for how content will evolve to suit viewers’ changing watching habits. First, he says the one-episode-per-week TV model is a thing of the past. Second, episode lengths, which currently vary by only a few minutes to accommodate commercial breaks and broadcast slots, will change to instead accommodate different story needs — meaning a one-hour drama might have a half-hour episode if that suits the plot better. Third, obvious commercial breaks will disappear as people shift toward on-demand viewing.

Todd Yellin joins FoST Founder Charlie Melcher on Wednesday, February 11th at 12:30 p.m. EST for a live online panel to elaborate on personalization and the evolution of viewing habits. RSVP and submit your questions HERE.