On Netflix, Stars, and Thumbs

Yesterday marked the end of an era. Netflix officially retired its long-standing five star rating system. No longer do viewers rate content on a scale ranging from “hated it” to “loved it”. No longer does Netflix present recommendations based on star ratings from viewers with similar taste.

Stars are out. Thumbs are in. But what exactly does this change mean?

There was a lot of trepidation and dare I say outrage online (outrage on the internet? how unexpected!) when Netflix announced the change last month. I was ambivalent to it at the time. Maybe even okay with it. Simplicity is always good, right?


I logged onto Netflix yesterday and everything about this change kind of pummeled me all at once. Remember that five star scale that allowed you to differentiate between things you liked, really liked, and loved? Well all three of those are now part of the same thumbs up rating.

Netflix's new rating system
The introduction to Netflix’s new system

So, as far as Netflix is concerned, there’s no difference between my ratings of The Office and That ’70s Show. Of Stranger Things and Bones. Of Paddington and Cats & Dogs. I mean, I love Cats & Dogs and all, but I absolutely adore Paddington. In each of these cases, one is a clear five-star for me and the other would get three, maybe four.

But now they’re all just a thumbs up. What this means in the long run isn’t clear. Will the additional percentage recommendation somehow offset the limited manner in which I can now rate movies and TV shows? Am I better off only using the rating system for things I loved and hated rather than those on which I have only vaguely positive or negative opinions? Will I just keep rewatching The Office to the point that none of this even matters?

There are a lot of questions about how this new rating system will actually impact users. There aren’t a lot of answers to go along with them yet. It’s new, and it might take a while before we get to see how this whole thing plays out.

I’ve become skeptical, though. Yes, thumbs up and down is a simpler rating system than five stars, each with a specific meaning that may or may not correlate to traditional star usage in movie scoring. But maybe simplicity isn’t always the best option.

What do you think of the new Netflix system? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Let me know in the comments.


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