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Netflix is ditching five-star ratings in favor of a thumbs up

Netflix vice president of product Todd Yellin said in a briefing today that the video streaming company would be changing its ratings system for the first time in several years, switching from a traditional five-star rating to a thumbs up/thumbs down system.

“Five stars feels very yesterday now,” Yellin said. “We’re spending many billions of dollars on the titles we’re producing and licensing, and with these big catalogs, that just adds a challenge … Bubbling up the stuff people actually want to watch is super important.

He said the change will happen in April, and will roll out globally. (Which means currently, you may still see star ratings in your Netflix account.)

Netflix first began beta testing the “thumbs” in 2016, rolling out the interface change to hundreds of thousands of new Netflix users around the world, while others saw the old UI with stars. After sitting back and watching for a few months, Yellin said, the company observed that over 200 percent more ratings were logged, cementing the decision to change the system.

It was first reported last year that Netflix was looking to move away from the old way of rating shows and movies, as the company looked to better measure how much people actually enjoyed the stuff they were watching. Switching to a binary thumbs up/thumbs down system might seem less granular than offering five stars, but Yellin said there’s an implicit understanding with thumbs up/thumbs down that people are doing it to improve their own experience rather than trying to rate it for the rest of the world.

In addition to the ratings change, Netflix will also start percent matching, which means it will use algorithms to show a percentage below a title based on how likely it is a viewer will enjoy it. This is personalized, Yellin said, not unlike dating sites that match you with potential partners based on interests or earlier activity. Another interesting point on this: Netflix is “matching” members based on a global database of activity, not segmenting it by local markets, because it has found that its members are surprisingly willing to watch Netflix content that has been produced in other countries or has subtitles.

“We’re finding these clusters of people and then we’re figuring out, who is like you, who enjoys these kinds of things, and then we’re mixing and matching those,” Yellin said.


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