Jack Shepherd, Independent, October 21, 2018
Netflix has been accused of using “intrusive” advertising tactics to mislead subscribers based on their ethnicity.
When browsing content on Netflix, the streaming service will make suggestions on what to watch next based on your viewing habits.
However, black users have noticed that the images being used to promote certain films will include black actors, even if those actors only have minor roles.
One example is Love Actually. While the Richard Curtis film features an ensemble cast, with Hugh Grant as top billing, some viewers are seeing Chiwetel Ejiofor on the film’s Netflix thumbnail despite the British actor only having a minor role (he does not feature on the theatrical poster).
Similarly, the streaming service is promoting their original series The Good Cop, a murder mystery, with black characters front and centre on the thumbnail; the series’ principal cast are majority white.
On Twitter, writer Stacia L Brown pointed out how the poster for the Kelsey Grammer and Kristen Bell-starring Like Father was appearing with two black actors on the thumbnail.
“Other Black Netflix users: does your queue do this? Generate posters with the Black cast members on them to try to compel you to watch?” she wrote.
“This film stars Kristen Bell/Kelsey Grammer and these actors had maaaaybe a 10 cumulative minutes of screen time. 20 lines between them, tops.”
Tolani Shoneye, who hosts The Receipts Podcast, told The Guardian: “It’s intrusive. It’s the dark side of marketing. I noticed it a while ago with a Zac Efron film that I’d already seen, but Netflix kept showing me it as a Michael B Jordan movie.”
She continued: “There was 30 minutes of a romcom I ended up watching last week because I thought it was about the black couple I was shown on the poster. I want to see those stories. They know I want to see those stories. Why don’t they just make more of them?”
Netflix found that displaying certain images to people, depending on their viewing habits, they were more likely to watch a certain film or TV show. They introduced multiple images to promote a single film last December
Tim Harrington, a senior broadcast research analyst, said: “Netflix’s recommendation engine is second to none, and works almost seamlessly in the background.
“But the algorithm for targeted artwork is shown as downright clunky when, say, [some] users are offered artwork for ITV’s Lewis with black actors despite both leads and almost the entire cast being white.
“Netflix knows a lot about you, perhaps even race, but their understanding of what to do with this information is currently rudimentary.”
Netflix responded to accusations of basing posters on a subscriber’s ethnicity by saying: “We don’t ask members for their race, gender or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalise their individual Netflix experience. The only information we use is a member’s viewing history.”