Netflix to revamp its content ranking algorithm for most popular titles

Mike Wheatley

Netflix is planning to revamp the way it ranks content in a move that should push better choices to people’s recommendations lists.


At present, Netflix’s popularity algorithm is focused on the number of accounts that have accessed each show or movie for at least two minutes, as opposed to focusing on the total viewing time of each programme.

When viewers are searching for something to watch, one of the main categories highlights shows and movies that are popular in the user’s region. The order titles show up in is based on any account that has watched a minimum of two minutes within its first 28 days on Netflix. But Netflix seems to have acknowledged that can be a bit hit and miss, as it’s quite common for people to watch the first five or ten minutes of a show and then turn it off.

So the new system it has come up with will be based on the total hours each title has been watched. The company explained its reasoning in a letter to shareholders that was first spotted by The Verge.

“There is some difference in rankings [...] but we think engagement as measured by hours viewed is a slightly better indicator of the overall success of our titles and member satisfaction,” the company said. “It also matches how outside services measure TV viewing and gives proper credit to rewatching.”

The new algorithm will be launched next year, along with a push towards greater transparency, Netflix said.

“We will start to release title metrics more regularly outside of our earnings report so our members and the industry can better measure success in the streaming world,” the company explained.

That’s a welcome change, as transparency in the video streaming world has long been criticised, with many in the industry saying that streaming service providers haven’t always been so straight up about their success. That lack of transparency makes it difficult to negotiate payouts to cast and crew members, as well as licensing contracts.

In any case, viewers probably won’t see too much difference by way of content recommendations, as the changes to its rankings will likely be minimal, Netflix said. For instance, the hit Korean series Squid Game (pictured) is a massive success by any measure, according to internal documents seen by Bloomberg last week. It reported that Netflix estimates 89% of people who started watching the show viewed at least 75 minutes, which is more than one episode. Additionally, 66% of its viewers – 87 million people – finished the series within the first 23 days it was available.

Last month Netflix said the series had become its most-watched ever, with a mind-boggling 142 million viewers tuning in, based on its two-minute metric.