3 months, 29 days ago

Netflix and Algorithms

Link: http://rvsoapbox.blogspot.com/2023/06/netflix-and-algorithms.html

Following my previous posts on Netflix, I have been reading a detailed analysis in Ed Finn‘s book, What Algorithms Want (2017).

Finn’s answer to my question Does Big Data Drive Netflix Content? is no, at least not directly. Although Netflix had used data to commission new content as well as recommend existing content (Finn’s example was House of Cards) it had apparently left the content itself to the producers, and then used data and algorithmic data to promote it. 

After making the initial decision to invest in House of Cards, Netflix was using algorithms to micromanage distribution, not production. Finn p99

Obviously something written in 2017 doesn’t say anything about what Netflix has been doing
more recently, but Finn seems to have been looking at the same examples
as the other pundits I referenced in my previous post.

Finn also makes some interesting points about the transition from the original Cinematch algorithm to what he calls Algorithm 2.0.

The 1.0 model gave way to a more nuanced, ambiguity-laden analytical environment, a more reflexive attempt to algorithmically comprehend Netflix as a culture machine. … Netflix is no longer constructing a model of abstract relationships between movies based on ratings, but a model of live user behavior in their various apps Finn p90-91

The coding system relies on a large but hidden human workforce, hidden
to reinforce the illusion of pure algorithmic recommendations (p96) and
perfect personalization (p107). As Finn sees it, algorithm 1.0 had a lot of data but no meaning, and was not able to go from data to desire (p93). Algorithm 2.0 has vastly more data, thanks to this coding system – but even the model of user behaviour still relies on abstraction. So exactly where is the data decoded and meaning reinserted (p96)?

As Netflix executives acknowledge, so-called ghosts can emerge (p95), revealing a fundamental incompleteness (lack) in symbolic agency (p96).

Ed Finn, What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing (MIT Press, 2017)

Alexis C. Madrigal, How Netflix Reverse-Engineered Hollywood (Atlantic, 2 January 2014)

Previous posts: Rhyme or Reason – The Logic of Netflix (June 2017), Does Big Data Drive Netflix Content? (January 2021)