It’s the end of another era for Netflix: As of Friday, the company has removed all customer-submitted reviews of TV shows, movies and other programming from the website.
Netflix began notifying customers of the move last month. It stopped allowing users to post new reviews as of July 30, and the company said it would purge all existing reviews by mid-August — more than a decades’ worth of user-contributed material.
Why did Netflix decide to do away with the feature? Its official position is that there has been a steady drop in usage of user reviews. “Netflix customers were able to leave reviews on Netflix.com until mid-2018, when reviews were removed due to declining use,” the company’s help site now says for entry, “How do I post reviews on Netflix?”
But certainly many people found value in reading other Netflix members’ opinions, and sharing their thoughts, too. Popular original series “Stranger Things,” for example, had racked up some 4,000 reviews on Netflix’s site before it zapped the feature.
The real reason Netflix junked user-submitted reviews probably was based on one question: Did they spur people to watch more content? On average, it’s doubtful. And strongly negative reviews, especially of Netflix’s own original programming, may have helped drive down users’ overall perception of the quality of the service.
It also may be the case that some Netflix users tried to sabotage titles they didn’t like with a coordinated barrage of acrimony (although this phenomenon isn’t exactly new on the internet). Recall that an entire conspiracy theory transpired that Netflix killed the five-star content rating system in favor of the binary thumbs-up/thumbs-down after Amy Schumer’s comedy special was hit with a rash of one-star ratings, allegedly by right-wing haters.
Netflix told Variety that user reviews did not have any effect on how its content-recommendations algorithms suggested titles to its broader customer base. “Writing a ‘bad review’ never had any bearing to whether a title was recommended to other viewers or not,” a company rep said. In addition, the redesigned thumbs up/down ratings system helps Netflix determine future recommendations to the specific member who gave that particular rating but does not influence what it recommends to other members. “Recommendations to members are always personalized based on what we think that specific member will enjoy watching based on what they have watched before,” the rep said.
While Netflix has quit the user-reviews game, other digital-content services and sites including Amazon, Apple’s iTunes and App Store, Google Play and Rotten Tomatoes continue to host user ratings and reviews. In fact, multiple reviewers of the Netflix app for iOS and Android have continued to complain about Netflix’s scrapping the five-star system, which happened more than a year ago.
Netflix’s users reviews were available only on the company’s website via computers; it never extended them to mobile or connected-TV platforms. Netflix allowed viewers to rate series and movies using the now-defunct five-star scale, and reviews could be as short as 80 characters or as long as 1,999 characters.
There’s been minimal backlash over Netflix’s announcement of the phasing out of user reviews. At the end of the day, they weren’t integral to the experience. But if you want to praise — or trash-talk — anything on Netflix, you’ll now have to go elsewhere.