Recommended for you... How Netflix Australia decides what you watch.
It’s the age-old question we all ask ourselves after any book, or television series we’ve committed hours, days, sometimes months of our life to…
If you’ve jumped on board with the wildly successful streaming service that recently arrived on our shores, and you may have already noticed, Netflix Australia answers that question for you. Sometimes Netflix Australia recommendations are hilariously inappropriate (see below), but most of the time they are so on the money you begin to question whether there’s any point in leaving the couch. Netflix Australia has estimated that about 75 percent of user activity is encouraged by these recommendations, so it’s understandable that what they refer to as their ‘secret sauce’ is handled with some tender-loving-care. But, how does it work? What kind of witchcraft powers Netflix Australia? How does it know exactly what you want to watch next? Algorithms.
The programs that pop up when you’ve finished a viewing session are automatically decided upon using a ‘recommendation algorithm’. The recommendation algorithm talks to the Netflix Australia servers and lets them know which movies and TV shows the customer will likely enjoy. It does this by taking into account three factors: your ratings and queue, the combined rating of all Netflix Australia users, and the movie or TV show you’ve just watched (the algorithm looks at similar programs and matches these up against the other two factors).
Netflix Australia decides what shows are ‘similar’ by comparing metadata, matching up common traits between programs. Is it the same genre? Was it made around the same time? These are the threads that tether recommendations to previously viewed programs.
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How does an evolving algorithm work?
Here in Australia, we received Netflix Australia in its prime, with 4K streaming, partitioned profile features and optimised algorithms, the only thing we’re missing out on is content. But with all these fancy features, it’s hard to believe that Netflix started as a DVD delivery service, much like our own streaming underdog, Quickflix. Even harder to believe is that Netflix Australia’ recommendation algorithm was in place way back when people were still receiving big red envelopes on their doorstep.
Cinematch was the first algorithm Netflix Australia used to predict movies and TV shows that users would enjoy. It was so good at doing it’s job that 50 percent of Netflix Australia users mailed their recommended film back with a five-star rating.
Netflix Australia identified recommendations as an integral part to their operation early on, and made it their mission to continually improve the algorithm. By 2006 the company had gained traction, and the desire to improve the algorithm increased. It was around this time the company launched a competition to find an algorithm that could outperform Cinematch. The ‘Netflix Australia Prize’ looked to award $1 million to an individual or team that could match the accuracy goals for suggesting movies based off users’ personal preferences. Three years later, two teams ‘Pragmatic Chaos’ and ‘The Ensemble’, submitted their entries within 14 minutes of each other, with the Pragmatic Chaos beating the competition by the skin of their teeth. Both competitors managed to improve upon Cinematch’s algorithm by about 10 percent. A success in the eyes of Netflix Australia.
Today, the algorithm looks at everything the original Cinematch did with a few added tweaks, including observing user behaviour (what you’ve been playing, searching and browsing). The service still groups certain TV shows and movies together as ‘similar’. To achieve this, Netflix Australia has more than 40 film-buff freelancers employed who annotate each television show and movie with tags, creating a massive web of media connected by genre, rating, age and many more categories.Back to top
Looking at the future… and your schedule
It’s hard to imagine how the amazing technology behind this service can be improved without Netflix Australia monitoring your emotional reactions to programs (hey, it could happen), but as you’d expect from one the biggest entertainment outlets in the world, they’re trying their darndest. Netflix Australia have been working hard at introducing ‘context’ to the recommendation algorithm. Based off data that suggests different viewing behaviours depending on the time of the day or week, the device being used, and even the location, Netflix Australia wants to tailor recommendations to your viewing patterns. Say you make a habit of watching Digimon late at night, Netflix Australia will then target your profile, the next night with recommended anime, like Yu-gi-oh. Soon, Netflix Australia will know you better than the friends and family you haven’t seen since Daredevil started. Kind of spooky; kind of awesome.