Netflix & Spy?

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Illustrated by Anithra Ratnayake, August 2016

Procrastination. All of us have been subjected to this monster at some time or another. I myself am an expert procrastinator. What is my go-to activity when I have so much to do and my brain just won’t allow me to be productive? Netflix.

Millions of people log into Netflix everyday and spend hours binge watching an ever-expanding selection of movies, TV shows and documentaries covering a range of genres. There really is something available for everyone.

Netflix knows how to keep you hooked, the minute you finish watching 7 seasons of a TV show, you are immediately shown something else to watch suggesting that this is something that “you might also enjoy”, how did they know I would enjoy that?!

An article that I came across recently on my twitter feed, got me thinking about how Netflix uses data-driven marketing to learn more about their users in order to keep developing more focused recommendations, so that they can ensure that their customers keep coming back for more. This got me thinking about just how much of my usage on the site is being tracked and how I felt about it.

“Netflix has two basic methods of determining users’ preferences: by asking what they prefer or by inferring what they prefer from (patterns in) discrete interactions within the system” (Lawrence, 2015, p. 359). 


                                                                        Illustrated by Anithra Ratnayake, August 2016

The first of these two methods is quite standard, while the latter relies on specific algorithms that focus more on the information that its users reveal, rather than state when it comes to their preferences.

In other words, the company has programs in place that track your recently played and most viewed genres on the website to then generate media that you might be interested in watching.

One of the main reasons that the Company tracks their users in this way is to ensure customer satisfaction. Below is a short video that I created and tweeted out explaining this in more detail.

Although Netflix keeps their algorithms hidden from the public these days, this wasn’t always the case. In 2006, Netflix announced a competition that gave the opportunity for an “individual or team to develop a recommendation system capable of predicting movie ratings with at least 10% greater accuracy than Cinematch, the company’s existing system” (Hallinan & Striphas, 2016, p.118). This competition was called the ‘Netflix Prize’ and offered the winners $1 million in prize money.

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Illustrated by Anithra Ratnayake, August 2016

The competition went on for three years (yes, that long) and although the company did not end up using the winners algorithm, according to Hallinan and Striphas (2016), the company’s quest to find new and more extensive ways to connect its users with movies that they love interfered with cultural foundations, and in doing so they managed to make a connection between algorithms and art.

Most companies and websites use algorithms and data mining techniques in order to keep track of their users and help better our experiences online. Social Media sites such as Facebook are well versed in such methods. Yes, the idea of this can seem quite scary and it can even be argued as an invasion of privacy. However, the fact that Netflix has adopted these methods for me, personally, doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. How else would I decide what TV show to watch next?

(word count: 550 not including captions)




  • Gomez-Uribe, C, & Hunt, N 2015, ‘The Netflix recommender system: Algorithms, business value, and innovation’, ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems, vol. 6, no. 4. Available from: 10.1145/2843948. [24 August 2016].


  • Hallinan, B, Striphas, T, 2016, ‘Recommended for you: The Netflix Prize and the production of algorithmic culture’, New Media & Society 2016, Vol. 18, no.1, Sage Publications ltd., p. 118-119, DOI: 10.1177/1461444814538646



  • Lawrence,E, 2015, ‘Everything is a Recommendation: Netflix, Altgenres and the Construction of Taste’, Knowledge Organisation, Vol. 42, no. 5, p.359, Applied Science & Technology Source, EBSCOhost, viewed August 24 2016







28 thoughts on “Netflix & Spy?

  1. Hi Anithra!
    Absolutely loved this post and the layout of images(Illustrating your own images was a great idea and pleasing to the eye). I loved your incorporation of statistics and quotes from scholarly sources. The idea of structuring the post around Netflix and social media sites was a clever idea and engaging for your readers. It’s hard to fault anything in your post as it was really engaging and enjoyable. The only thing I can point out is that it might be useful to incorporate another scholarly source to support your argument, otherwise well done, looking forward to hearing more from you!


  2. Hi Anithra,

    Fantastic post! Little touches like the positioning of your images and the bolded quote go a long way to enhance the overall aesthetics of you work – it looks great! I also love the inclusion of your personal drawings, what a talent you have! Your active hyperlinks draw in other platforms that enhance your argument, while demonstrating a sound grasp of utilising a range of different media.

    I love how your discussion of targeted advertising on netflix has a positive spin to it and aims to remind us of the benefits for both users and the companies. The efficiency of these innovative marketing strategies is something you could discuss in an even broader context, the ability to customise advertisements to an individual consumer, millions of times over has changed the world of marketing. This is a notion that requires further exploration as it surpasses traditional mainstream advertising in the virtual sphere.

    Awesome work! 🙂


  3. Hey Anithra!
    Just thought i’d point out that you need to add one more scholarly source to your article before it can be deemed as an assignment blog post! But besides that, I really enjoyed reading this, and your way of writing really made everything flow perfectly. Your use of images and tweets really broke up the paragraphs well and the layout worked well with your blog.

    Netflix has recently been in the news, and over social media with some of the same issues you have been writing about, so it was really refreshing to read about it from someone else opinion, it was really engaging.

    Looking forward to reading some more!


  4. Hey Anithra, love this blog post… it really gets me thinking about my own personal Netflix usage. This blog was really engaging and your level of research was great, it really showed your interest in the topic, which made this blog more engaging. The inclusion of images and embedded tweets were great, they were extremely relevant and worked perfectly within the post. I like the overall, structure and flow of your post, it works so well. Without being too biased… I must say your posts are some of my favourite from this unit, they always so engaging and easy to read. I look forward to your future posts.


  5. Hi Anithra, what a great post! I really enjoy your style of writing – your points are educated and well-researched and yet your tone remains casual and very engaging to the reader. I think your topic lends well to this, as Netflix binging is something a lot of us can relate to, so good choice of topic, too!

    I don’t think I have any recommendations for this piece, but going forward I hope you continue to incorporate your own illustrations into your blogs – they are incredibly creative, relevant to the context and break up your block text so nicely. Well done and I look forward to reading more of your blogs!


  6. Hi Anithra, I really enjoyed reading this post! It’s probably the first post I actually read word-for-word. I found it really interesting, especially the Netflix Prize – I never knew they did this sort of thing, but also – they didn’t even use the winning algorithm! Your writing was very clear and informed. I thought your use of hyperlinks and images really worked well. The only thing I would suggest, is to make sure the reference list is in alphabetical order. One more scholarly reference would deem it an assignment post, so just keep that in mind. Thanks for the interesting read!


  7. Hi Anithra,
    This blog really caught my attention because of the title, it’s really clever! And it’s bound to capture the attention of others I’m sure.
    I appreciated your own images that were contained within your blog. It’s nice to see self-created images besides creative common ones for a change (I should really take or create my own pictures for my blogs too).
    Just a heads up with your references: The title of journal articles that are found online aren’t in italics, they usually just have quotation marks and a normal font. The specific journal title is usually in italics according to Deakin Harvard.
    Keep up the good work!


  8. Hey Anithra,

    I found you’re blog post relating to surveillance on netflix to be quite an interesting read. You’re heading ” Netflix and …. spy?” was very captivating. I liked how you were able to include your own illustrations throughout the post. By using your own images you not only break up the paragraphs of text, but also add more visually stimulating ( engaging ) material to your blog. Your blog structure was also easy to read.

    Good use of references. Make sure to list your references in alphabetical order.

    Great Post 😀 can’t wait to read more


  9. Hi Anithra!

    Just have to say I loved your blog post and was fully engaged in the topic. The hand drawn images were awesome and added to your post greatly! Very original idea and something I might have to include in some of my blog posts!

    Interesting topic of Netflix interesting to see everyone’s points of view on surveillance itself.
    Might recommend breaking up the paragraphs, just lots of areas of text to digest. But nothing crazy.

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to future blog posts.



  10. Hi Anithra!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post because it really resonated with my infatuation with Netflx! I also find it interesting the way modern media providers such as these try to gain an affinity with their customers by making them feel understood. Procrastination city!

    Your video was awesome. It tied together the piece and made it look so professional and crafty. That is something I am very jealous of! I was thinking that more descriptive imagery of the Netlfix interface might be beneficial to the viewer but I like the simple use of imagery which paints a picture of a kind of mind control that Netflix and others have over us!

    I think this post is one of the best I have seen as the video is so strong, it really keeps you thinking.

    Fantastic work Anithra!



    1. Thanks so much for your lovely comments Cauley- I love Netflix too, and when I read about their recommender systems I just knew I had to do a post on it haha! So happy the video worked- thanks again! 🙂


  11. Hello, Anithra Ratnayake,

    What a good and interesting blog you have made. It has a lot of pictures, videos and especially, it has a big red Netflix color which catches the eyes of the readers.
    I like the way you combine the videos and the Tweets together which I think it is very interesting.

    The only thing about the images is that it should be hyperlinked to the creative commons license pictures.
    Moreover, the license of which picture should be displayed below those very funny and attractive pictures.

    Furthermore, the link to the individual licenses should be opened in the new window as well so the readers could just check it and close it down instead of waiting for it to be reloaded.

    Other than that, your blog is a great one, keep building the fun and interacting blog, Anithra.



      1. Wow, It’s great that you did it. Impressive. In my opinion, it might be better if you show it done by you so people won’t misunderstand anymore. I would do the same though, you know in case 🙂


  12. Wow Anithra! Your blog is amazing. First of all, I love the way your blog is formatted, with a strong header, an embedded Twitter widget and LinkedIn, YouTube and links. Very effective!

    You have made excellent use of the WordPress platform – embedding videos, Tweets, and graphics. Your statistic that ‘70% of all things viewed on Netflix are recommendations’ is important, and the two shows I am personally watching right now are both recommendations. I have always been curious about how Netflix respond to users’ viewing habits, so you have helped expand my understanding.

    Your spelling and grammar are great and your references are good. Keep up the great work and enjoy watching Netflix!


  13. Hey Anithra,
    Who would’ve thought that Netflix uses surveillance in order to keep their users happy and loyal? But now that I think about it whenever I log onto my account there are always movies or tv shows being suggested to me in relation to what I’ve watched in the past. I love the way you have incorporated your own video and drawings into this post as it breaks up the structure really nicely. Maybe a few more quotes from additional scholarly resources could add something extra to the overall blog. I really enjoyed reading this blog topic it has inspired me!


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