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How Netflix hooks you into ‘Stranger Things’ (The 3:59, Ep. 303)

CNET

“Stranger Things” is almost back. The second season of the cultural phenomenon arrives on Netflix on Friday. We discuss the tricks Netflix plays to get us hooked on that show[1] and others, including choosing that perfect splash photo to tease the show.

Not that we need another photo to get us excited. We also discuss T-Mobile’s third-quarter earnings results[2] and how we all really just want to know what’s going on with its pending rumored merger with Sprint. Lastly, we talk about Boxed, a retailer that managed to add automation while keeping its staff employed.

It runs counter to the idea that robots have to take our jobs[3]. The 3:59 gives you bite-size news and analysis about the top stories of the day, brought to you by the CNET News team in New York and producer Bryan VanGelder. Check out the extended shows[4] on YouTube.

How Netflix hooks you into Stranger Things (The 3:59, Ep.

303)

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Subscribe: iTunes | RSS | Google Play | FeedBurner | SoundCloud |TuneIn | Stitcher[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

References

  1. ^ Netflix plays to get us hooked on that show (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ T-Mobile’s third-quarter earnings results (www.cnet.com)
  3. ^ runs counter to the idea that robots have to take our jobs (www.cnet.com)
  4. ^ extended shows (www.youtube.com)
  5. ^ iTunes (itunes.apple.com)
  6. ^ RSS (feed.cnet.com)
  7. ^ Google Play (goo.gl)
  8. ^ FeedBurner (feeds.feedburner.com)
  9. ^ SoundCloud (soundcloud.com)
  10. ^ TuneIn (tunein.com)
  11. ^ Stitcher (www.stitcher.com)

‘Stranger Things’ addict? Here’s how Netflix sucked you in

One of Netflix[1]‘s highest aspirations is to get you binging on shows like Eleven wolfs down her Eggo waffles. Netflix, the world’s biggest subscription video service by members, tends to jealously guard its data. But ahead of the season 2 premiere Friday of supernatural thriller “Stranger Things[2],” the company lifted the curtain on some of the tricks it uses to entice its members into clicking play.

From tags to “taste communities,” Netflix tries to personalize its service, right down to the image you see splashed across your screen when you fire up the app. “If you look at someone else’s Netflix screen, not only will they have different titles featured,” said Todd Yellin, Netflix’s vice president of product, in a presentation to reporters last week. “Even the images around each of the titles is catered to each individual member.” It’s a rare look inside the machinations of the video service, which is aiming for global video domination one original show or movie at a time.

The stakes are high for Netflix, which said it will spend as much as £8 billion on programming next year[3]. That’s why shows like “Stranger Things” are so critical. It’s a worldwide hit, literally — the company found one person who watched the first season in Antarctica.

To help spread the word, Netflix starts by figuring out the nuances that define the show. Netflix hires taggers around the world who watch every piece of content and tag it for things like tone — tense, ominous, scary — and storyline — buddy story, missing person, family in crisis. (If you’re wondering how you could land one of these paid gigs, Netflix says they’re posted to its jobs website when they become available.)

More than one portal into the Upside Down

Netflix’s algorithm applies 12 tags to “Stranger Things” to capture nuances of how different people relate to it. That means that while some of you see “Stranger Things” in a row for TV mysteries, others find it in sci-fi thrillers.

To figure out clusters of shows and movies that seem to appeal to the same people, Netflix has identified 2,000 “taste communities.” “Stranger Things” is the most popular title in “a bunch” of those, Yellin said.

Netflix “taste communities” that rank “Stranger Things” as the most-watched title can have completely different shows rounding out their top six.

Netflix

While “Stranger Things” may top many taste communities, it doesn’t mean those lists are identical. One taste community with “Stranger Things” as No.

1 had horror items like “The Mist” and “Scream” in its top six, while another placed “Stranger Things” at the top of ahead of teen programming like “13 Reasons Why” and “Pretty Little Liars.”

Getting personal

Movie recommendations aren’t the only things Netflix personalizes. It tailors how your recommendations look, too, by specializing the image that accompanies them.

Different images worked best to draw in viewers with different TV tastes.

Netflix

Netflix found that people who like documentaries were more likely to watch “Stranger Things” if it had a picture of Chief Hopper in his uniform.

People who gravitate to action, horror and romance were more likely to click on the title with an image of Eleven staring intensely, while drama fans were most attracted to a picture of Eleven from far away. Picking the images is “a mixture of art and science,” Yellin said. The art comes from finding a diversity of strong images for the show.

Then, through an image comparison method called A/B testing, “within a day, we home in on ‘This kind of image is resonating with this kind of viewer,'” he said.

First-timers

The company also approaches promotion differently depending on whether you’ve watched a program or not. The debut of the second season, Netflix has found, is a good time to target people who haven’t watched the show at all. In the year since the first season of “Stranger Things” landed, Netflix has compiled data about people who it believes would like the show but haven’t watched yet. “Someone who hasn’t, we want them to start it at season one, episode one,” he said.

Video promotion is “the next frontier” for Netflix, Yellin said. If you watch Netflix on a TV, you’ve probably noticed it automatically playing a trailer, the opening credits or the show itself after a few seconds. But the next stage of video promotion will likely personalize the clip that unspools, much like title images are tailored today, Yellin said.

Something that sets “Stranger Things” apart from the average show on Netflix is the screen you watch it on. Generally, about two-thirds of Netflix viewing is on televisions[4] — but for “Stranger Things,” the proportion of big-screen viewing is higher. As of this month, Netflix has more than 1,200 hours of 4K content and more than 200 hours of content using an imaging technique called high dynamic range, and it says those high-quality image formats are growing in popularity.

Netflix expects viewing of “Stranger Things” season 2 to have four times as much 4K watching compared with the first season, Yellin said. All the better to capture every nook and cranny of that Eggo waffle. The Smartest Stuff[5]: Innovators are thinking up new ways to make you, and the things around you, smarter.

iHate[6]: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.

References

  1. ^ Netflix (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ Stranger Things (www.tvguide.com)
  3. ^ £8 billion on programming next year (www.cnet.com)
  4. ^ televisions (www.cnet.com)
  5. ^ The Smartest Stuff (www.cnet.com)
  6. ^ iHate (www.cnet.com)

iPhone X: An ugly deception?

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives.

Oh, no it isn’t.

screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You must be quite tense. There’s less than a week to go[1] before you must decide whether to part with £999 — or even £1,149 for the 256 GB version — in order to secure an iPhone X. (Preorders start next Friday[2].) Is it, as Apple insists, the “smartphone of the future”?

Or is it just another iPhone that’s flattering to deceive? Let’s talk about the deception part, because it’s been disturbing me for some weeks now. Apple is marketing iPhone X on its site with these simple words[3]: “It’s all screen.”

It’s short. It’s memorable. Indeed, I have only one problem with it.

Look, I don’t want to be picky, but the iPhone X isn’t all screen. Look even for a moment and you’ll see there’s an ugly black blob at the top of the screen. It’s there to house the TrueDepth camera[4], which will determine whether you are who you look like you are via FaceID[5].

“It offends me. It’s ungainly and unnatural,” influential Apple commentator John Gruber mused[6] of the so-called notch. “I think Jony Ive either lost a bet or lost his mind.

It looks silly, and to pretend otherwise is nonsense,” he added. The marketing, however, tries to turn the nonsense into magical truth. Recently, Ken Segall — who spent 12 years creating ads for Steve Jobs’ Apple and NeXT — offered[7] that Apple’s advertising had always been “intelligent and accurate.”

Oh, I don’t know about that. Remember the “Genius” ads[8] that suggested Apple’s employees would be only too happy to help you if you turned up at their apartment? I suspect that wasn’t accurate. (And Apple tried to excise the ads from the web.)

I’m not sure the most recent promise of “Practically Magic[9]” is all too near the truth either, given that the words were first said about the rather prosaic iPhone 7. Still, Segall is similarly perturbed by the all-screen idea. He sees it as Apple “playing loose with words and images.”

“Of course we can see with our own eyes that iPhone X is not all-screen. It has a noticeable edge around the entire display, which even the Samsung S8 does not have. And then there is ‘the notch,'” he said.

Yes, the notch that only seems less prominent when you have a picture on the screen that happens to have a black area at the top. Does Cupertino believe it can inject the All-Screen thought into human minds and expect people to buy it over the evidence of their own eyes? Did no one, for a moment, stop to wonder whether there might be other, less inaccurate formulations?

And what if, one day, Apple releases a notchless phone? Will Apple simply not mention the screen? Or will it go for “Notchless.

Matchless.”? Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. I do, though, have a depressing thought.

No, not the one that says, “this is just advertising and no one expects it to be accurate.” Look around. We live in an era in which so much of what we hear is, if I may borrow the phrase the president invented[10], fake news.

What’s a little exaggeration when faced with the blatant nonsense that’s peddled at us every day? Look at my picture. I’m all handsome.

Wouldn’t you agree?

References

  1. ^ less than a week to go (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ start next Friday (www.cnet.com)
  3. ^ with these simple words (www.apple.com)
  4. ^ TrueDepth camera (www.cnet.com)
  5. ^ FaceID (www.cnet.com)
  6. ^ mused (daringfireball.net)
  7. ^ offered (kensegall.com)
  8. ^ the “Genius” ads (www.cnet.com)
  9. ^ Practically Magic (www.cnet.com)
  10. ^ the phrase the president invented (www.cnn.com)

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