Psychology of Netflix: 4 Reasons You Can’t Stop Watching Netflix

For many of us, our favourite part of the day is coming home after work to eat our comfort food while watching our favourite series on Netflix. Statistics show 15% of the world’s web traffic goes to Netflix, which during the pandemic increased by another %12! In 2020, it had more than 200 million subscribers. I guess we can all agree it is one of the most successful streaming platforms out there. Netflix’s co-founder and CEO Reed Hasting states “hours per subscriber per month” is their number one measure of success. So, they want to keep the subscribers watching, and to achieve this, there are many well thought tricks they use. Here are a few of these;

Reciprocity Principle

The reciprocity principle states that if you give people what they want or do them a favour, they will return the favour back, in Nextflix’s case, by subscribing and watching. In a survey, Netflix asked people; What one thing would you like to know more about before signing up for Netflix?” The most popular answer (46% of responses) was “knowing all of the movies and TV shows available”. Netflix trialled this and showed its customers all the available shows prior to signing up. However, they observed that a lot of potential customers had a look at what is available but ended up not subscribing, possibly due to seeing too many options being overwhelming and distracting (Choice Overload Effect). So, they decided to give a sneak peek of what is available through an image without letting customers browse the whole thing. This kept things more exciting and did not overwhelm the potential subscribers. It made them more likely to sign up for a free streaming trial and continue watching once their free trial ends.

Cocktail Party Effect

The Cocktail Party Effect states that people like to focus on information that’s relevant to them. A study by Accenture showed that personalisation has a direct effect on buying behaviour as;

  • 56% of customers would rather buy from a retailer that recognizes them by name.
  • 65% of customers prefer to buy from a retailer who knows their purchase history.
  • 58% of customers prefer to buy from a retailer that recommends options based on their past purchases.

Netflix uses personalisation as an essential element of the subscribers’ experience. They do these by;

  • Personalised Recommendation Engine; ‘Because You Watched…’ section involves personalised suggestions for subscribers from what they have been watching. Netflix has found that 80% of what customers watched in the last two years have been direct result of Netflix’s recommendation rather than the search engine.
  • Personalised Thumbnail Design: In the past, Netflix would show the original posters of movies and series. However, they moved onto customising their own thumbnail as this meant they could use horizontal images in the right dimensions that allow for bigger design. This also meant that Netflix can use personalised images that fit the customer’s taste. For example; if you like movies with a particular actor, Netflix will show you a picture of this actor to catch your attention. If you like romance movies, images will show what seems to be two people in love. The more emotions they show in thumbnail the more attention it gets from customers. Also, Netflix has worked out that different images do better in different countries, so images on your page will depend on where in the world you are.
It is important to note, the reason this works so well for Netflix is that they do it with transparency. Customers know that this platform offers them a personalised experience and encourages them to give feedback for better recommendations, such as thumbs up/down.

Social Proof Effect and Customised Algorithms

The social proof effect is the tendency to look at others’ behaviours for permission to try something new. According to Nielson research, 83% of consumers in 60 countries say they trust social proof over any other form of marketing persuasion. Netflix uses this to their advantage with their ‘Top 10’, and ‘Popular on Netflix’ lists. These work well because for customers knowing what is popular in their area takes away the risk of watching something new and not enjoying it. Also, these lists consist of just enough information for customers to decide what to watch; a list of a few suggestions, with a meaningful name for each row in a useful order, how much of a match it is according to what you have been watching.

Idleness Aversion

Idleness aversion is the idea that people are happier when they are busy. Netflix aims to keep customers busy by giving them lots of information to engage with, animation, gamification and visuals. You may have noticed Netflix forces you to watch trailers on auto-play when you dwell on the title. Although it may be frustrating at times, this helps Netflix keep you watching! Also, when you finish an episode, another one auto-starts, which increases your chances to binge-watch all night!

Can you think of any other ways Netflix gives us a personalised experience and keeps us watching? Comment below!

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