Netflix Thumbnails Say Much More About You Than You Think

Netflix’s algorithm curates thumbnail images to your tastes. So what do yours reveal?

Netflix Thumbnails
Photo: Netflix | Art by Jessica Koynock

It’s impossible to go a day on the internet without interacting with a robot.

Algorithms dominate the World Wide Web and advertisers are fond of using them to discern exactly what consumers are looking to buy. Few algorithms are as sophisticated, however, as streaming titan Netflix’s. Perhaps you may have noticed, but the thumbnail images for content on your Netflix account frequently differ from those on your friends and family’s. In fact, a thumbnail for a particular TV show on movie may change on your own account from day-to-day, seemingly depending on your mood.

That’s because Netflix, like all online enterprises, has a vested interest in giving you exactly what you want to see. As detailed in this helpful rundown, since 2015 Netflix has put its algorithm to work analyzing its users’ viewing habits and curating imagery that will appeal to them. It’s not like this is any grand secret either, by the way. Via the company’s technology blog in 2016, Netflix specialists detailed why catching a viewer’s attention within 90 seconds was of the utmost importance, writing:

How can we make it easy for our members to evaluate if a piece of content is of interest to them quickly? As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Neuroscientists have discovered that the human brain can process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds, and that across the board, it takes much longer to process text compared to visual information. Will we be able to improve the experience by improving the images we display in the Netflix experience?


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