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As You Pick a Netflix Flick, Netflix Watches You

Here's why the cover art for shows changes
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2016 7:34 AM CDT
As You Pick a Netflix Flick, Netflix Watches You
Netflix is testing how images prompt viewers to select a show.   (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

(Newser) – Netflix wants you to watch more Netflix. To that end, the company has been testing how the cover art that accompanies a movie or TV show influences a viewer's decision to ultimately watch it, the Daily Dot reports. Netflix figures it has about 90 seconds to capture your attention before you lose interest in watching a movie, writes the company's Nick Nelson in a blog post, and the best way of doing that is through images (which, a previous study found, is where watchers put 82% of their focus). "Imagine having to tell your friend about the last movie you watched through a single drawing on the back of a playing card," writes Nelson.

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Users spend only about 1.8 seconds assessing a title presented to them, and Netflix has gleaned some insights into what works. (Read a technical post on the undertaking here.) Highlights:

  • Close-ups of expressive faces that "convey a wealth of information … regarding the tone or feel of the content" outperform images depicting "stoic or benign expressions."
  • The effectiveness of an image decreases when it contains more than three people. Writes Nelson: "While ensemble casts are fantastic for a huge billboard on the side of a highway, they are too complex at small sizes."
  • Cover art that depicts villains performs "surprisingly well in both kids and action genres in particular."
  • Due to what Netflix calls "regional nuances," the performance of artwork varies by country; for example, the top Sense 8 image was different in the UK, US, Brazil, and Germany. From the Verge: "There's definitely some sneaky demographic targeting going on" that is driven "at least partially by racial identity."
(Read more Netflix stories.)

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