Why is Netflix Dumbing Down its Rating System?

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Why is Netflix Dumbing Down its Rating System?

Remember when there were shades of grey in society? When one’s opinion of a piece of art wasn’t reflexively limited to “it’s great” or “it’s terrible”? When our political system wasn’t rigidly, immovably partitioned into an eternal, 50/50 war for supremacy, where new ideas are derided and cast out?

More importantly, remember when you could reasonably rate a movie on Netflix? You should, considering that you were able to do it until this week. That is, before Netflix removed the star system for good. Say goodbye to stars, say hello to the vastly inferior “thumbs.”

Let’s just start off with the obvious: Every star rating you’ve made over the last decade of using Netflix has just been erased. The thousands of films you’ve rated to make sure Netflix gives you the best movie selections it’s capable of giving? Those are gone forever. That weird little hobby you had of seeing how many Netflix movies you could rate? That’s gone too. The entire service essentially just got a complete reset, in terms of its perspective on your taste. Even if you’d rated 500 films with perfect 5-star ratings, under the new system, Netflix no longer has any of that previous data to suggest those films to you. In short, it no longer has any idea of what you like, even if you’ve been using the service for years.

EDIT: It’s been pointed out that the star ratings actually do still technically exist, if you visit your profile and click on “ratings.” They are, however, functionally pointless now, given that they don’t have any affect on the newly minted “match percentage.” They’re just a reminder that Netflix is no longer bothering to use that data.

This is obvious as soon as you look at any of the genre pages—allow me to simply use the horror page as an example, given that I recently wrote our list of the best horror movies streaming on Netflix. The movies it recommends extremely highly to me are now, by and large, straight to VOD garbage with titles such as American Poltergeist (97% match!), Anguish (96% match!) and The Charnel House (96% match!). Meanwhile, the movie I just rated as the #2 best horror film streaming on Netflix, An American Werewolf in London, is rated as a 65% match. My #1 film, The Shining, is merely 81%. Which is to say, Netflix’s new system is pretty sure I’m going to enjoy The Rezort, The Ouija Experiment 2 and Little Red Rotting Hood more than boring ‘ole Stanley Kubrick.

rotting hood (Custom).jpgHow could I ever have thought The Shining was superior to this film?

Clearly, this is patently absurd, so that’s one strike against the thumb system. Presumably if you rate enough films, it will eventually tailor itself to make more sensible choices, but do you really want to start putting time into rating movies again when Netflix may simply choose to erase all of your ratings again at the drop of a hat?

Moreover, the new system has eradicated any hint of subtlety there might have been in being able to rate films. You now have two choices: Like it, or don’t like it. For any true film fan, this simply isn’t enough. It may have worked for Siskel and Ebert on their TV show, but please note that Ebert didn’t write newspaper reviews emblazoned with the image of a big THUMB. No, his actual reviews were written on the standard star system, because it’s absurd to attempt ratings with only two options. Guess which score appeared most often in my own hundreds of ratings on Netflix? It was “3 stars,” because we live in a world where subtlety is a thing that exists. Not everything can be summed up with a gesture, people.

So why did Netflix feel the need to do this? Were they so upset by star ratings of a critically derided show like Marvel’s Iron Fist that they wanted to obfuscate the meaning of every rating? Did they think this system will allow them to more efficiently push their original content? The latter certainly seems likely, given Netflix’s ever-expanding desire to be categorized and thought of as a “premium TV channel” rather than the film repository it once strived to be.

Regardless of the reason for the choice, it’s obvious to any user even glancing at the new system that it immediately serves the customer less efficiently. Even the ability to browse and search has been hamstrung by the removal of option to browse by “highest rated.” Wondering what other people have been rating with a thumbs up? Well, you don’t get to see that data! Netflix is clearly stating their desires: They want you to be the sole arbiters of what you see and watch. The company considers its own algorithm as the only factor that should be deciding your viewing choices. User ratings? They don’t want you to have that information. Critical consensus? They definitely don’t want you to have that information.

Might I add, that’s why Paste’s Netflix lists are now more important than ever with this new thumbs system. Rather than rely on Netflix to recommend garbage to you, check out our constantly updated list of the best movies on Netflix, or genre lists such as best comedies, best documentaries or best TV shows. Netflix may no longer want you to have this kind of information, but we’re happy to provide the public service.


Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer. You can follow him on Twitter.

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