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The clever way Netflix is manipulating your binge watching

Netflix Movies TV Shows Artwork

Netflix is a hugely popular streaming service that has more than 81 million worldwide subscribers. What makes Netflix so popular is that it offers instant access to hundreds of titles, including original content, that are available to stream on a whim. There are no commercials, and you don’t have to wait a week to see the next episode of your favorite series. However, just because you just ended a six-hour Netflix binge doesn’t mean you were in full control. The company may have figured what you were going to click next before you did. And it did it so by simply looking at nothing other than the type of artwork people like.

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Netflix isn’t forcing you to pick one show over a different one – and we all know how difficult choosing something to watch on Netflix can be. But the company does stack the deck in a sense: it’s looking to convince you to spend more time inside its apps. Netflix wants to keep you inside its service for as long as possible, and it does so using carefully picked images for each suggestion it gives you.

Detailing the immense work that goes behind the scenes, the company explained that it has some 90 seconds to capture your attention before you think of something else to keep you entertained and that something may be something other than watching Netflix.

Studying its customers, the company found that artwork is the biggest influencer when it comes to a member’s decision to watch certain content. When looking at suggestions, users spend 82% of their focus on the imagery, and an average of 1.8 seconds per title while on Netflix. The company quotes studies that show the human brain can process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds to explain why appropriate imagery – and plenty of testing – is required to capture the attention of its customers.

By using various images for the shows it offers subscribers, including its original creations, Netflix was able to determine that users in different markets react differently to artwork. The company also found out that people respond better to pictures showing complex emotions. The artwork for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt above shows the clear winner (green arrow), as it’s the image that features a strong emotional reaction from Kimmy and Titus.

Netflix also discovered that users tend to favor imagery showing up to three characters, and are more attracted to recognizable characters, and especially bad guys – check out the imagery used for Dragons: Race to the Edge above.

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.