This week, Netflix announced it would be simplifying its rating system, and the internet responded with confusion. Since 2000, Netflix users have been able to rate their rentals on a scale of one to five stars. The service’s algorithm makes sense of each user’s ratings and suggests new films with projected ratings as specific at 3.75 stars. From now on, Netflix users will only be able to give the TV shows and movies they watch a definitive thumbs up or down. This is a monumentally terrible decision, and it’s not difficult to see why.
Netflix began as a simple film renting service, but over the years it’s become an online art curation system, as popular with die-hard anime fans, cinephiles, and horror nuts as it is with people who just want to watch Adam Sandler’s new assault on film.
Personally, I’ve been organizing my Netflix account painstakingly since 2008, never giving my password to anyone and never allowing friends to rate things we watched together. After nearly a decade of religiously watching, rating, and reviewing the films and TV shows I stream, my Netflix account is a razor-sharp recommendation machine. The website tells me I am most likely to enjoy “dark foreign films with a strong female lead”, “exciting natural disaster blockbusters,” or “witty, irreverent stand-up comedy specials,” making it the most verbose and specific tool I have for finding new films.
If the service says I’ll feel 4.75 stars out of 5 about a film, I know I’ll adore it, but won’t consider it perfect. If a B-movie hits Netflix with a projected 2.5 stars, I know it’s one of those “so bad, it’s good” stoner-style, feel-good films. This new binary system absolutely destroys a system I’ve been using since I was a teenager, and what’s worse is that Netflix gave us no warning.
In its bouncy trailer for the new feature, Netflix assures users that the “thumbs” feature will allow the company to make more accurate predictions. Instead of a 3.75 star rating, for instance, you’ll see a projection that Stranger Things Season 2 will satisfy you at 78%. It may not be catastrophic to its subscriber base, but movie nerds who enjoy reflecting on what they binge will probably end up turning to Mubi or other, similar services.
Netflix’s update is online now.