Netflix is watching what you watch

Krysten Ritter stars in Marvel’s “Jessica Jones.” This new Netflix show would be added to your suggested viewing list if you watched other superhero productions.
Krysten Ritter stars in Marvel’s “Jessica Jones.” This new Netflix show would be added to your suggested viewing list if you watched other superhero productions. TNS

Netflix subscribers may have noticed that the list of suggested titles that pop up constantly change with the online service. It’s not by chance.

One week, Netflix will present you a generic list of TV shows and movies for suggested viewing. A few weeks later, the list will offer titles that were selected just for you.

Here’s what’s happening: Online services like Netflix monitor what you are viewing. The company gathers information on which TV shows and films you watch and figures out what you would most likely want to see next.

Todd Yellin, vice president of product innovation for Netflix, says the company has recently improved the algorithm to make the suggestions even more focused on the subscriber.

The matching of interests starts the day you sign up for a service. Netflix needs information to determine some basis for suggested titles and begins with a one-minute survey, which subscribers take when they launch the service. The answers are used to generates an initial basic list.

The more a subscriber watches, the more the suggested list begins to fall in line. If you look at a lot of horror films, TV programs like “American Horror Story” or “Hemlock Grove” will show up on the list.

It’s all a carefully planned computer program that makes predictions based on what you have viewed. Then the 50 or 60 titles of the company’s thousands of potential programs to watch are adjusted.

Some of the suggested titles might be a little embarrassing because you watched something completely alien to your regular viewing trends. That’s why Netflix launched a new feature last year where subscribers can go into their account and delete any title.

Just because there’s a list of 50-60 suggested titles doesn’t limit the subscriber. The thousands of titles are all available to the subscriber, but it is ever changing.

This could cause a problem if you have decided to start watching the full season of a TV show and Netflix removes it before you can reach the final episode.

Two-thirds of the hours spent watching Netflix is spent viewing a TV show. And, once a viewer starts watching a TV show, they tend to watch the entire season. The idea is to not pull the series from the online library at the wrong time. Part of the recent updates to the service is a feature that alerts viewers that a program is about to be removed.

Knowing the company is spying on you might be a little disconcerting, especially if that information got shared with others.

Yellin says that the term “spying” suggests the information gathered by your past viewing habits will be shared with other entities. Websites that sell advertising – such as Google or Facebook – share information with advertisers to get them to buy commercial space on the website. Netflix makes its money from subscribers’ fees, so there are no advertisers to serve.

“So I’m not going to use the word ‘spying.’ We are a subscription service on Netflix. We, myself and my team, we have one master, and that master is our subscribers,” Yellin says. “We don’t share your data. We don’t sell it, and we don’t share it with anyone.”

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1