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Starting in April, Netflix is going to replace its five-star rating system for films and TV shows with a simple thumbs-up, thumbs-down system for rating content. In other words, Netflix is doing away with a time-tested classic for how we rate movies and replacing it with its version of the simple Facebook “like.” That move is huge and deserves a big thumbs up.
If you think about it, the five-star movie rating system used by Netflix and by movie critics everywhere is a staple of how we think about and talk about movies. Telling someone that a film just got a “five-star review” connotes that it’s a film you definitely recommend others to watch. And conversely, a “one-star review” connotes that a film is basically a disaster that you should avoid.
The predictive power of the “like”
Until recently, the idea that a binary (I liked it/I didn’t like it) system could be more powerful than a five-star rating system would have sounded foolhardy. The whole point of the five-star rating system is to capture all the little nuances that might make a well-acted but poorly marketed film worth seeing. But now Netflix’s VP of product innovation is saying that “five stars feels very yesterday now.” So Netflix is moving to the “like.”
In short, the “like” is a much better predictor of which films people actually watch than a five-star rating system. That’s because there’s a big difference between the films we tell people we like and the films we actually watch.
Netflix refers to this as the difference between rating an Adam Sandler comedy and a foreign language documentary. We feel compelled to give the Adam Sandler comedy a low rating to show our good taste and judgment, yet watch that movie multiple times. In the same way, we feel pressure to give that subtitled foreign language documentary five stars, even though we may only stream it for 15 minutes before giving up on it.
If you watched this year’s Oscars, you get the idea. Even the host Jimmy Kimmel joked about the fact that nobody really watched this year’s best film, “Moonlight.” And certainly only a handful of people had even heard of the best foreign language documentary winner (“The Salesman”) from Iran, even though it was from a famous, Oscar-nominated director.
The “like” is a great way to boost customer reviews
Moreover, moving to a thumbs up/thumbs down system has a remarkable increase on the number of people who leave ratings for a film. According to one study that Netflix did, the ability to “like” or “dislike” a film resulted in a startling 200% increase in the number of reviews that people left. And all those ratings can go into Netflix’s huge recommendation system, making it easier for Netflix to find the movies you’ll actually enjoy watching.
The “like” is the global language of the Internet
And there’s one more reason why the Facebook “like” just conquered Netflix – it has become the global sign of approval. That simple thumb icon is recognized the world over, and as Netflix expands to 130 different countries around the world, it wanted a way to rate films that would be modern, digital and cross-cultural.
In fact, Netflix is now calling the Facebook-inspired thumb “the language of the global Internet.” That could be a warning to movie critics everywhere – the next time you publish a film review, stop with the pretentious five-star rating system and just tell us if you’re planning to stream it on Netflix.