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Netflix at the Nexus

Content, Practice, and Production in the Age of Streaming Television

Edited By Theo Plothe and Amber M. Buck

Netflix’s meteoric rise as an online content provider has been well documented and much debated in the popular press and in academic circles as an industry disrupter, while also blamed for ending TV’s "Golden Age." For academic researchers, Netflix exists at the nexus of multiple fields: internet research, information studies, media studies, and television and has an impact on the creation of culture and how individuals relate to the media they consume. Netflix at the Nexus examines Netflix’s broad impact on technology and television from multiple perspectives, including the interface, the content, and user experiences. Chapters by leading international scholars in television and internet studies provide a transnational perspective on Netflix’s changing role in the media landscape. As a whole, this collection provides a comprehensive consideration of the impact of streaming television.

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Chapter 12. The Netflix Experience: A User-focused Approach to the Netflix Recommendation Algorithm (Daniela Varela Martínez / Anne Kaun)


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A User-focused Approach to the Netflix Recommendation Algorithm

Daniela Varela Martínez and Anne Kaun


A large part of the user experience of Netflix is based on the recommendation algorithm that suggests content to subscribers. The chapter employs a user-focused approach to the study of algorithmic culture using Netflix’s recommendation algorithm as a case study. While current research has focused on questions of black boxing (Pasquale, 2015), algorithmic biases in terms of visibility (Bucher, 2012), and socio-technological power of algorithms (Beer, 2017), there is a lack of research addressing the perception of algorithms and their logics by casual users. Theoretically, the chapter draws on current studies engaging with the notion of algorithmic culture suggesting a strong anchor in science and technology studies to develop an understanding of how technological innovations are actively adopted and appropriated by users in often unexpected ways (MacKenzie & Wajcman, 1999; Striphas, 2015). The chapter is empirically based on material gathered through a walkthrough of Netflix (Light, Burgess, & Duguay, 2016) and in-depth interviews with heavy Netflix users in Singapore. Based on the gathered material, we investigate both habitual and counterintuitive usage and perceptions of the recommendation algorithm. ← 197 | 198 →

The chapter suggests a rethinking of the role of the user for algorithmically enhanced cultural production. Based on our findings, we consider users as co-producers of content, contributing data and knowledge through their practices to the...

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