What Binge-Watching Scandal Reveals About Netflix’s Bad Recommendations Algorithm


I recently became a Scandal addict, which I neither pride nor shame myself on. After ripping through all the available episodes on Netflix, my stomach dropped, and I lay in bed with nothing but a lit computer screen and a glass wine as I looked around me …Help! What else? What else will be just as addicting, fast-paced and sexy as Scandal? Oh, Olivia Pope.

I was in crisis, a crisis Netflix must have anticipated based on its built-in “Since you watched X” followed by a series of similar, or supposed to be similar, movies, shows, documentaries etc. Now, we all know Netflix pretty much sucks at suggestions, that they usually miss the mark with what we’ll actually enjoy, and it’s evident that their algorithm leaves a lot to be desired. Just because I watched Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater doesn’t indicate that I would at all be interested in The Artist. In fact, it should reveal quite the opposite — that I have no patience or inclination to watch a silent film in 2014. But anyhow, back to Scandal. Here I am looking for something else to quench this insatiable desire for passionate political drama, a digital romance novel, and I see Netflix has been so kind as to provide me with a series of suggestions.

In the order they appeared following “Because you watched Scandal”…

1. Hawthorne
2. The Game
3. Unauthorized Biography: Beyonce
4. Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day
5. Game Changers: Jay-Z
6. All Star Comedy Jam
7. Coming to America
8. Lincoln Heights
9. Luther
10. 24-Hour Love
11. Boomerang
12. Gifted Hands
13. The Bernie Mac Show
14. 35 & Ticking
15. Miss Dial
16. Arnez J: Racially Motivated
17. The Seat Filler
18. The Night Catches Us
19. The Last Fall
20. Playas Ball
21. Percentage
22. Note to Self
23. BMF: The Rise and Fall of Hip-Hop
24. What My Husband Doesn’t Know
25. Winnie Mandela
26. Video Girl

For the sake of my point and your understanding of my point, I encourage you to quickly Google these titles if you don’t already know what they are. The Night Catches Us stars Kerry Washington so I see why Netflix might think I’d like that, but the rest of the suggestions have little relation to Scandal’s plot, premise, or style of drama. I would expect a suggestion like, let’s say, House of Cards — a political drama with a strong female character.

The only common denominator with Scandal and Netflix’s suggestions is that they each star black people, and a majority of the suggestions consist of an all-black cast. It’s important that Hollywood begin to feature more diversity, but to pinpoint this diversity as the only reason why someone would want to watch Scandal is getting it kind of backwards.

You see, I don’t like Scandal because Kerry Washington is black. I like Scandal because it’s a great show and Kerry Washington is a great lead. Yes, I’m glad to see a black woman starring in one of the most popular shows right now, but you’ve got the equation all wrong, Netflix.

You’re wrong in so many ways, and your faults expand beyond your racist hiccup. Why do I want to watch Malcolm in the Middle if I watched How I Met Your Mother? And where did you get the idea that I want to watch The Price of Gold based on House of Cards, The Office, and Mad Men? How do those three shows come together and give birth to a figure skating documentary? Also, why does “Top Three Picks for Sasha” include One Tree Hill, United States of Tara and See Girl Run, three things I have never once watched or clicked on, especially considering I watched House of Cards, Mad Men, Scandal, and Breaking Bad?

So we obviously have an issue: Netflix is bad at giving suggestions. What’s even worse is that I don’t know what you want from me, Netflix. How can I fix this problem? Is there something I’m doing wrong? Should I actually be rating things after I watch them? Am I messing up your algorithm when I watch something for one minute and decide against it? You are not comprehensive in any way, and given your massive following you should get it together. We Netflix folks will move on…eventually. Break-ups are tough but there’s only so much we addicts can take. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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