Oct. 26, 2020Print | PDF
Subscription content-streaming services such as Netflix, Crave and Spotify have an interesting problem: more than ever, users are sharing their account information with each other to gain access to TV, movies, sports and music. Doing so “confuses” the recommender algorithms that suggest new content to those users. This problem is compounded in an increasingly competitive marketplace where dysfunctional recommender algorithms may drive away subscribers who share accounts.
The research department at Netflix is collaborating with Patrick Watson, assistant professor of Criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University, to better understand how users of various streaming services make sense of these predictive content-recommending algorithms. The hope is that with better understanding, users will have an improved relationship with the services and sharers will become subscribers.
Watson’s research team is using a suite of qualitative software tools called Chorus to sift through Twitter and identify what discussions users are having about streaming service algorithms and account sharing. This information has been used to interview account sharers and gain a deeper understanding of what they think of algorithms, both in streaming services and more generally.
As a social scientist, Watson is interested in the intersections of technology and society. How are people making sense of technology in their lives?
“People treat sharing content-site passwords like sharing the keys to their apartment,” says Watson. “Algorithms can tell a lot about a person by what they are watching, and people are concerned about how their algorithm represents them.”
Once the study is completed, Watson will present his findings virtually to Netflix’s team in San Francisco. In addition to being a “light” departure from his typical criminological research, Watson is happy to provide his research assistant, master’s candidate in Criminology Hayden Slight, with exposure to the corporate world.
“I hope this is great work experience for him and something unique to add to his CV.”
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