Netflix: When Entertainment Dulls Us

Netflix and Espionage – The Brave New World of the Database  By Kate Epstein, on Counterpunch

“[Richard] Snowden’s leaks and the ensuing debate about our [US] government, database, and privacy led to more allusions to [George] Orwell than I had ever heard in mine (admittedly post-1984 ) life. It’s hard not to compare the constant vigilance of the 21st century in the United States to the omnipresence of Big Brother in the visionary 1949 novel. Not to mention the double thinking that surrounds our never-ending war, with an enemy that keeps changing places , to keep the homeland safe (war is peace), our exploding prison population, a 790% increase since 1908 (freedom is slavery), and the current brutal repression by the government of those who speak the truth and public education (ignorance is strength).

But the great Database has another side, which Aldous Huxley predicted very well in his 1932 dystopia, “Brave New World.” In this version of the future, consumer desire, not policing of ideas, keeps the citizens of the World State in line, in the year defined not by DC but by A.F., or “After Ford” (after Henry Ford). Sex hormone gum, the drug adds to inducing ecstasy (“one cubic centimeter cures ten melancholy feelings”) and recreational sex are encouraged, as well as participating in popular “feelies”, which combine sight, smell and touch to create the ultimate experience of entertainment.

In many ways we are experiencing a bizarre combination of “1984” full monitoring and “Brave New World” feeling management in the post-Fordist corporatocracy in which our actions are monitored and our perceptions managed enough to determine our desires and then satisfy them as a way to eliminate the dissidents and crush them.

It’s corporations like Booz Allen, after all, that conduct the government’s surveillance work in our fantastic, unregulated, new world.

Although one of the functions of this entire database is “security”, which is a profitable enough industry in its own right, an even more profitable function is to better understand consumer decision making, which can be built from of the more than 2.8 zettabytes of data that exist in the world.

Like the characters in Huxley’s dystopia (the vast majority thought they were living in a utopia), we exist in an entertainment-saturated society. Much of this entertainment is delivered to us by one company: Netflix, which serves approximately 30 million viewers and has more viewership than cable television.

I thought of “feelies” and Huxley’s broad vision when I heard about Netflix’s new strategy for creating original content, first used last February with the series “House of Cards” – a strategy that involves using billions to better understand what your viewers want to see.

Netflix, like the NSA (National Security Agency), knows a lot about us. Think about how much your pattern as a viewer reveals about you (what you watch, when you watch it, how often you interrupt the show, etc.).

It was privacy concerns when renting a video that forced the adoption of the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 after Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork’s video rental data were published. in a newspaper. Congress was outraged to see such personal information made public (consider it the “metadata” of the time), but the law has not been updated since then, despite certain new developments, including the invention of the internet.

Consider how much Netflix must know about you as, according to GigaOm, it also collects location data, device information, metadata from third parties like Nielsen and social media data from Facebook and Twitter, in addition to the more obvious data. events: over 30 million plays per day, 4 million rankings, 3 million polls and all breaks, fast-forwards, rewinds and replays. (Nielsen is the market research company, created in 1923 by Arthur Nielsen, that coined the term market share. It gathers global information about what consumers watch and buy for advertisers and corporate customers like Coca-Cola, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Walmart, CBS, NBC, News Corp. and Disney).

This information has long dictated what content Netflix decides to license and recommend to different viewers, but the show “House of Cards” was the first time a company used all this information in the creative process of producing a TV show.

It all started when Netflix realized there was significant overlap between groups of viewers who watched movies with Kevin Space and films directed by David Fincher throughout, and viewers who loved the original 1990 BBC miniseries “House of Cards”. watched one of ten trailers for the series based on their consumer profiles.

The producers also knew from studying the behavior pattern of viewers that releasing the thirteen episodes at once would promote and satisfy the addictive behavior demonstrated by the target audience. The new strategy worked: 10% of Netflix subscribers saw the entire series in the two weeks after it premiered, and 80% of viewers considered the series “good” or “exceptional”.

In the wake of the success of “House of Cards”, Netflix debuted a new series, “Orange is the New Black” on Thursday, July 11th. Described as “hilarious, heartbreaking and highly praised by critics, the series is based on the true story of Piper, an upper-class New York woman who is sentenced to 15 months in jail in a women’s prison for a felony. that she committed a long time ago”. The program really received raves. The San Francisco Chronicle stated that the series has achieved “a new definition of excellence in television”.

Just as retail companies like Target [US department store] know when a teenager is pregnant before her parents, by collecting an extensive collection of data, entertainment producers in various industries are becoming more and more expert about the database’s potential to transform the creative process and satisfy consumer demand in an unprecedented way.

The idea that computer algorithms can show what we normally considered to be unique human creativity is relatively new, but it is expanding rapidly.

Algorithms that research, collect and organize an exponentially growing amount of data are already able to evaluate texts, compose music that mimics Bach so well that many cannot tell the difference, and write journalistic texts about events where no journalist has been present. (Look “Can Creativity Be Automated?”).

“We know what people watch on Netflix and we can, with a high degree of certainty, understand the size of the potential audience for a given show, based on people’s programming habits,” he told Wired magazine in 2012, the director of communications at Netflix, Jonathan Friedlan. “We want to continue to have something for everyone. But as time progresses, we improve our ability to understand what this something is for everyone who achieves a high degree of response”.

It may be going too far to compare this new entertainment environment to the “Brave New World” feelies and obstacle golf games, but it’s hard not to be a little skeptical about an industry so in tune with consumer preferences that it can even use algorithms to create “The Last Television Show”.

Despite the reality that we are facing crises of drastic proportions – environment, economy, social and political problems – we are bombarded by propaganda of a totally different reality. In more than 3,000 advertisements a day, they present us with a world in which the consumer is sovereign, freedom of choice reigns and life without pain, with constant pleasure, is possible.

Art and entertainment that cannot please all the time, despite the social value they may have, represent a dwindling share of what most Americans consume.

As technology advances, corporations are developing more accurate methods to monitor our behavior and smarter algorithms to organize this data.

Last year, Verizon [phone company] filed for a patent for a type of monitoring technology that uses infrared cameras and microphones to track and record consumer behavior – eating, exercising, reading and sleeping – in the vicinity of a TV or mobile device.

Embedded in cable boxes in American living rooms, this Orwellian tool is supposed to help companies get to know us a little better.

Marketing companies use eye monitors to measure how elements of advertisements are seen, retained and remembered, and companies use face recognition in covert billboard cameras to detect age and gender to present targeted advertisements.

To be sure, these new developments raise many of the same privacy concerns raised by the intelligence community’s extensive spy program. When did we agree to give all this personal data away for free? And do we even know this is happening?

s Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings told Businessweek, “We can do more calculations and statistics based on data so that Netflix represents more and more a place you can relax, escape to.” It sounds almost as good as the “sum” party without a hangover.”

Kate Epstein is a lawyer and activist. Manages the blog The Lone Pamphleteer.

Via VioMundo.

Written by Feitosa-Santana

Leave a comment