Netflix’s public image benefits from its relative embrace of on-screen diversity, as compared to its peers in the broadcast television world. The streaming company now faces accusations of employing misleading marketing tactics for users of color.
The New York Times reported yesterday (October 23) that several users have noted that the “row art”—images that represent shows on the Netflix platform—targets them by showing characters that match their race, even when they are not the main characters in the programming. The Times referenced tweets from podcast creator Stacia L. Brown and several respondents that include screenshots of row art highlighting minor characters of color:
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? This film stars Kristen Bell/Kelsey Grammer and these actors had maaaaybe a 10 cumulative minutes of screen time. 20 lines between them, tops. pic.twitter.com/Sj7rD8wfOS— stacia l. brown (@slb79) October 18, 2018
Just did another cursory scroll of suggested watches and the posters they gave me. pic.twitter.com/VoCFJQfWaK— stacia l. brown (@slb79) October 18, 2018
Just to add my white data point, these are the thumbnails I see for some of the same movies you shared. pic.twitter.com/GjapwcdQuD— Kelly Quantrill (@codetrill) October 19, 2018
I’m white and this is the Good Cop picture for me. pic.twitter.com/wkYyk4mWPS— Valerie Weisenfeld (@VWeisenfeld) October 18, 2018
Netflix denies that its algorithm, which the platform uses to personalize suggested content, considers users’ race.
“We don’t ask members for their race, gender or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalize their individual Netflix experience,” a company spokeswoman told The Times. “The only information we use is a member’s viewing history.”
Netflix engineers explained the process in a 2017 post on Medium, writing that their system primarily accounts for a user’s previous watching habits when considering suggested titles and their accompanying promotional images.