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The Netflix Algorithm Doesn’t Care About Gender, Age, or Geography — Only Your Taste



The only weird thing about Netflix’s meteoric rise to power is that almost nothing has gone wrong for them. That’s all thanks to their hard work, but it’s also kind of weird that no one’s complained about them yet, right? The season two premiere of Daredevil, for example, didn’t cause a server overload.

Wired spoke to Netflix higher-ups about that, and it turns out that Daredevil‘s second season didn’t even cause a traffic spike; the people watching that show would’ve already had Netflix on anyway. That … makes a terrifying kind of sense, since we all already have Netflix on anyway, all the time. And by “we” I mean the 75 million subscribers that Netflix told Wired they have now. Daredevil, by the way, streamed to 190 countries at once.

The best part of Netflix’s global reach? They can cater your movie recommendations according to what other people with similar taste have chosen — even if those people with similar taste live on the other side of the world. Netflix’s VP of product innovation, Todd Yellin, explains:

There’s a mountain of data that we have at our disposal. That mountain is composed of two things. Garbage is 99 percent of that mountain. Gold is one percent… Geography, age, and gender? We put that in the garbage heap. Where you live is not that important.

When you have more than 75 million people around the world, you can get really specific about who’s your taste.

So how do they determine what movies you might like, if it isn’t based on demographics? Netflix keeps their algorithm a secret, of course, but it seems to have more to do with what you’ve watched and/or rated than anything else. It wasn’t always that good, though, says Yellin:

We used to be more naive. We used to overexploit individual signals. If you watched a romantic comedy, years ago we would have overexploited that. The whole top of your screen would be more romantic comedies. Not a lot of variety. And that gets you into a quick cul-de-sac of too much content around one area.

Netflix’s plurality of users has made the taste-based algorithm work much better, but international reach poses some unique problems. France, for example, doesn’t allow movies to appear on streaming until three years after their cinematic release. That means when The Big Short appears on Netflix, French users won’t be able to watch it — and since Netflix has been locking down on proxies lately, those users might not even be able to find a good work-around.

So, the only complaint about Netflix seems to be that users want even more of it, all across the planet. No one seems all that concerned about the media giant taking over the world and controlling all of our TV and movie consumption — which would mean they could also raise the price and none of us would be in any position to complain.

On the other hand, as long as Netflix stays affordable and easy to use, it’ll continue to be the go-to service that everybody uses instead of pirating movies, which is the thing everybody did before Netflix existed (shhh). So perhaps we mere users have the upper hand after all.

(via Gizmodo, screenshot via Netflix)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (, and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (