Netflix might drop its movie and show recommendations for genre tags – and I'm all in

Netflix Love This Button
(Image credit: Netflix)

Whenever you look at a movie or show on Netflix, it gives you a compatibility score. It has been providing "match" percentages to indicate whether it thinks you'll like that particular title since 2021, and the higher the number the more confident the algorithm is. But it's a pretty blunt instrument to try and cover an entire universe of storytelling, and that means more of us are turning instead to tags. And that's something Netflix has reportedly noticed.

Tags are a much more informative way of describing titles. For example, you might prefer your dramas "offbeat", your cop shows "gritty" or your ensemble pieces "soapy". And while tags have been around since the days when a Netflix subscription meant getting DVDs through the post, they've become increasingly important to streaming. Which is why Netflix is apparently going to make them more central to its recommendations, according to a report by IndieWire.

Why Netflix is tinkering with tags

Netflix is constantly looking for ways to improve its recommendations and to keep you watching the best Netflix movies, so over the years we've seen numerical star ratings, 'surprise me' links, thumbs up and thumbs down buttons, match percentages and tags. But it seems that Netflix sees tags as the most useful of the bunch. 

Netflix product director Allan Donald said it best when he reportedly told the New York Times that tags are like magazine cover lines – they "make as much of a difference [in] that snap 'this is for me' decision".

According to the New York Times, Netflix has 30 full-time employees whose job is tagging shows and films with over 3,000 tags (including the least-used "occupation: farmhand"). And it's apparently close to ditching the match percentage in favour of making their tags more prominent.

IndieWire reports that Netflix is about to go all-in on tags instead of percentages. A representative from the streamer has confirmed to the publication that Netflix is "likely" to remove the percentage in order to make tagging more prominent. There's no indication of when that will happen or if it'll be happening in every territory, but as Netflix works the same way worldwide there's no reason to anticipate this being a US-only change. 

As IndieWire notes, another reason for the change is that Netflix has an advantage here. Unlike rivals, it has both the technical capability and financial resources "to employ an entire team of taggers". The wonderful thing about taggers, it seems, is that taggers are Netflix-y things.

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.