Don’t Let Netflix Choose Your Next Movie

Laura Doan

We miss a lot when we turn to streaming behemoths such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon for our films.  According to a 2017 survey licensed by LendEDU, 92 percent of college students have Netflix accounts. Though our streaming services offer award-winning original television, they’re also negatively shaping our movie-knowledge and viewing habits.

If users don’t expand outside of the big three streaming sites, their movie options are  seriously limited in many genres. None of the larger streaming platforms provide extensive indie, classic, documentary or foreign film collections, and if you want to watch a movie by one of your favorite directors — say Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg or Francis Ford Coppola — you’ve got limited options. Netflix offers streaming for very few of these directors’ acclaimed films.

With the  already limited options, streaming sites further whittle down what users see by making movie-choosing a data driven process that enforces rather than expands the viewers cinematic preferences. Hulu, Amazon and Netflix all take a user’s previous watch data to suggest similar titles for individualized “Top Picks” or “Watch Next” lists. Netflix goes further than the others and includes a “Percent Match” feature for every film to indicate the probability each user will enjoy it. Some might see this as great service, customized for the consumer, but it also trains viewers to stay in their lane rather than reaching out of their comfort zone for titles they might fall in love with. 

“So just as much as they’re supposedly taking your data and trying to create programming for you, on the other hand, they’re creating programming and trying to fit it and you in the same box” said Kathy Fuller-Seeley, professor of media studies. In the wake of  Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional hearing,  public conversations about how sites like Facebook tailor users to their content to make a profit are common, and we need to apply scrutiny to how we’re being shaped by all our usual media sites — including those for streaming. 

Instead of letting Netflix decide our next film, we should talk to each other about what to watch next or find a community of film nerds who will do it for you. Even broke college students have better movie-watching options. If you want to stay in your pajamas to pick a film try MUBI: You can get access to a collection of films that rotates monthly and are all chosen carefully by movie-experts. Users can also continue to geek in the movie comment sections or pour over the complimentary movie-analysis from film critics. Sites like MUBI bring connection back to the movie-choosing process.

You can also combat the effects of streaming the uniquely Austin way: Visit the lovably quirky I Luv Video or Vulcan Video movie rental stores staffed by movie lovers who can take you to the movie you want or recommend you their favorites. These stores are clubhouses for the cinephile, with shelves and shelves of DVDS, kitschy shrines to Nicholas Cage, boxed Star Wars and events like Weird Movie Wednesdays or Free Beer Tuesdays — a lot less sterile than streaming. 

Don’t let Netflix choose your next movie. Visit sites and stores which will expand your options and your tastes, and give you a community of film-nerds that streaming sites can never offer.

Doan is an English and Plan II junior from Fort Worth. She is a senior columnist