by 👩💻 Alice Monroe
Targeted advertising in the day and age of the internet is nothing new at all. In all likelihood, everyone who has been online even briefly will have experienced or will have witnessed an advertisement or banner which appears to play directly to their interests. There are all manner of data which goes into targeted advertising, thanks to cookies, search history and other factors – but sometimes, this type of marketing can have unintended consequences – as some are currently suggesting via social media with regard to Netflix’s current appeal to viewers.
Netflix’s browsing system is set up so that it can make suggestions to you with regard to what you may like to watch next, based on your watch and browsing history. Therefore, it actively encourages viewers to find similar content which they may enjoy elsewhere on the platform – a win-win for user and for the service. However, some black viewers have reported on social media that characters of non-white ethnicity appear to be getting shoehorned into the banner images for certain shows and movies, whether or not said characters have a significant role to play or not.
According to some media sources and several Netflix subscribers via Twitter, movies such as Love Actually – which appeared to push Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has only a minor role in the film – to the forefront of their banner ads. In a similar move, others report that black actors from the likes of Kelsey Grammer’s latest offering, Like Father, are given significant space on Netflix’s thumbnails as opposed to the main stars involved. So what’s going on?
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Netflix has outright responded to claims of intrusive ethnic advertising. “We don’t ask members for their race, gender or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalize their individual Netflix experience. The only information we use is a member’s viewing history.” Therefore – is this simply a case of reading deeply into things?
Broadcast research analyst Tim Harrington, speaking to The Independent, thinks that if this type of targeting is possible, it’s in its infancy. “The algorithm for targeted artwork is shown as downright clunky when, say, users are offered artwork for ITV’s Lewis with black actors despite both leads and almost the entire cast being white,” he states. “Netflix knows a lot about you, perhaps even race, but their understanding of what to do with this information is currently rudimentary.”
Are Netflix targeting for more than we let on? Apparently not – at least, according to the horse’s mouth.
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