Netflix likes to categorize its shows to help viewers find new films and TV series, but some of the categories “seem so specific that it’s absurd,” writes Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic.
Curious about each “microgenre” created by Netflix’s algorithm, Madrigal used “elbow grease and spam-level repetition” to discover that Netflix “possesses not several hundred genres, or even several thousand, but 76,897 unique ways to describe types of movies.”
Madrigal continues, “What emerged from the work is this conclusion: Netflix has meticulously analyzed and tagged every movie and TV show imaginable. They possess a stockpile of data about Hollywood entertainment that is absolutely unprecedented. The genres that I scraped … are just the surface manifestation of this deeper database.”
The analysis was completed with cooperation from Netflix, the report notes.
The system begins by paying people to watch films and tag them with metadata, including “their sexually suggestive content, goriness, romance levels, and even narrative elements like plot conclusiveness.” Then the tags are combined with viewing habits of Netflix users.
But not every genre has streaming titles associated with it, because “the genres that I was looking at represented the total possible universe of different genres, not just the ones that people were being shown on that particular day in this particular geography (the United States),” Madrigal writes.
Categories included themes such as “evil kid horror movies” and “gritty Discovery Channel reality TV.”
The report adds: “The only semi-similar project that I could think of is Pandora’s once-lauded Music Genome Project, but what’s amazing about Netflix is that its descriptions of movies are foregrounded. It’s not just that Netflix can show you things you might like, but that it can tell you what kinds of things those are. It is, in its own weird way, a tool for introspection.”