I've written before on this site about the Netflix data advantage. The company isn't exactly forthcoming about its data, a certainly tenable position these days. After all, data is a major source of its competitive advantage.
Now, thanks to an astonishing article by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic, laypeople now possess a much greater understanding of the data that Netflix uses and generates.
War Deep Sea Dramas from the 1910s
In How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood, Madrigal describes his journey to understand how the company categorizes movies. The short answer is that Netflix employs a dual or hybrid approach of algorithms and people. With regard to the latter, Netflix hires folks to watch movies. (Yes, you read right.) But there's a catch described below:
Using large teams of people specially trained to watch movies, Netflix deconstructed Hollywood. They paid people to watch films and tag them with all kinds of metadata. This process is so sophisticated and precise that taggers receive a 36-page training document that teaches them how to rate movies on their sexually suggestive content, goriness, romance levels, and even narrative elements like plot conclusiveness.
Yes, there's a correct way at Netflix to watch and grade movies. The company is not particularly interested in what these folks thought of Reservoir Dogs on an abstract level. (To be sure, that movie is a bit violent for many folks. The ear scene can be tough to watch.)
Instead, Netflix wants to know how violent the movie is (read: its relative level). That measure or scale can be quantified. Once quantified, it can be categorized into nearly 77,000 micro-genres. Equipped with this data, Netflix can recommend genres of movies as esoteric as – and I'm not making these up:
- Morality Chilling Absurd Thrillers from the 1950s
- War Deep Sea Dramas from the 1910s
- Martial Arts Mid-Life-Crisis Westerns from the 1950s about Parenthood
There is no shortage of valuable lessons on contemporary data management to be gleaned from Netflix. I highly recommend reading the entire article. Suffice it to say that everything that Netflix can do is based upon some form of data. For now and the foreseeable future, data contains an important human element. Organizations that ignore this side of equation do so at their own peril.
What say you?