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March 18, 2017

Netflix ditches star ratings: How does the new system change things?

by John_A

The star ratings on Netflix are going bye-bye.

Starting in April, the company plans to replace stars with thumbs ups and thumbs downs. The new system got way more ratings versus the traditional star-rating system when tested among a small pool of users last year, Netflix said. It’s essentially making ratings less important because it now thinks user behavior is more important.

Here’s what you need to know about the change.

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What did those Netflix star ratings mean and how did they work?

For several years now, every time you logged on to Netflix to check out a movie or TV show, you’d see ratings for that movie or show in the form of filled-in stars. Five red stars meant the film is a perfect hit for you, while one star meant that the film probably sucked. However, if you always assumed those little stars on Netflix reflect the average rating given by other Netflix users, you’re mistaken.

The entire system is actually customised to you and every other user. According to BGR, the number of stars you see come from reviews given by like-minded viewers. So, when you’re looking at movie or TV show’s splash page, the star rating isn’t a running average of how all Netflix users ranked the film, but rather a representation of those who have similar tastes as you and what they thought.

In other words, it’s possible that the same movie displayed different ratings for different accounts. The film Step Brothers might’ve had five stars for you, but your grandma could’ve seen it with three stars.

Why is Netflix ditching star ratings?

Netflix announced on March 17 that it will change its ratings system for the first time in many years. It is ditching the traditional five-star rating system to a thumbs-up / thumbs-down system. Todd Yellin, Netflix’s vice president of product, told journalists during a press briefing that the five stars feel “very yesterday now” and Netflix wants to focus on “bubbling up the stuff people actually want to watch.”

Netflix first rolled out the new rating system to hundreds of thousands of new Netflix users across the world last year. Yellin said Netflix immediately noticed a drastic spike in engagement. Over 200 per cent more ratings were casted by users. And so, Netflix has decided to change the system, even though binary thumbs-up / thumbs-down doesn’t appear as specific or enlightening as the stars.

How does Netflix’s thumbs ratings work?

Netflix emphasised during its press briefing that users who rate movies actually do it to improve their own Netflix experience so that they’ll see recommendations for content they’d prefer to watch. They aren’t logging stars ratings just so some other users around the globe will know to watch a film they especially liked. Netflix just wants people to rate more so that it can start serving up the best content for them.

By giving a movie or show a thumbs up, you will tell Netflix that you want to see more content like that. And by giving a movie a thumbs down, you will tell Netflix to not recommend or “bubble up” similar content. The company also plans to start per cent matching. It will use algorithms to show a “personalised” percentage below a title that’ll represent how likely it is you’ll like that movie or TV show.

So, a show that fits your taste may get a 98-per cent match, but a show that has less than a 50-per cent match won’t display a match-rating. Based on a global database of activity, Netflix is also figuring out that customers are willing to watch Netflix content that has been produced in other countries or has subtitles. So, it’s finding these people and then figuring out who is like them and enjoys those kinds of things.

It’s mixing and matching all this – again, with the purpose of “bubbling up” stuff people actually want to watch.

When will Netflix start using the new thumbs ratings?

Netflix said the new thumbs-up / thumbs-down rating system will kick off in April 2017. It will slowly roll out globally.

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