agoodmovietowatch is a film curation service designed to help people find what to watch on streaming platforms. They use objective criteria to recommend movies and series: at least 7/10 on IMDb and 70% on Rotten Tomatoes. Their staff watches and vouches for every pick.
As we speak, Netflix just rounded 214 million subscribers worldwide after gaining a record number of new subscribers by 2020. Clearly, the streaming service has a strong position in the global market and – according to Bilal Zouheir, founder of agoodmovietowatch – Netflix and other popular streaming platform's algorithms have a big impact on which movies and series we choose to watch.
"Most audiences think that streaming algorithms are designed to help them find what to watch, and rightfully so, that's how their makers sell them. In reality, streaming algorithms are commercial tools designed to tell you what to watch within what the company wants you to watch," says Bilal Zouheir.
Most of us know the situation of searching for a great movie to watch, we end up choosing one from the "Netflix recommend''-category. More than 80% of the TV shows people watch on Netflix are discovered through the recommendation system. It means what you decide to watch results from machine learning and algorithms that know all about your taste in movies, based on your past viewing – and corporate preferences.
"Streaming algorithms are not just lowering the quality of what we watch; they're also lowering the quality of what gets made."
"Back in 2016, Netflix boasted that their biased algorithm brings them $1 billion in revenue a year. That number is much higher now," he says.
According to Bilal, Netflix's algorithms overwhelmingly recommend Netflix Originals to give you the illusion that you're getting your money's worth.
"It doesn't matter if these Netflix Originals are good or bad, acclaimed or problematic. If they spent money on it, they want you to watch it," says Bilal Zouheir.
To get us to understand the scale of the problem, Bilal compares Netflix to Spotify – the world’s most popular audio streaming subscription service with 406 users:
“What is especially worrisome about Netflix algorithms, more than Spotify, is that Netflix makes its own content. The equivalent of a Netflix algorithm in music is if 80% of what was on your Discover Weekly on Spotify was music made by Spotify itself," he says.
"If you think all Netflix Originals look and feel the same, you're not alone. It's something called "Ambient TV" - dull, digestible, and formulaic "content" that you can fold your laundry to."
Imagine listening to music on Spotify, and most of their recommendations were their own produced content. The problem arises when a big streaming service like Netflix makes their own content, hides competitors’ content – and discounts important movies and series if they are not Netflix Originals.
What happens when algorithms are helping us in our search for entertainment? Today we are surrounded by content tailored to our personal tastes on all our online entertainment and social media platforms. We constantly get feeded within our filter bubble and are rarely challenged by something outside our bubble.
"Algorithms create a filter bubble for each of us and puts us in isolated frames of mind where we are understimulated, less tolerant, and constantly confirming our own biases," he says.
Many of us aren't aware that everything on our Netflix homepage is tailor-made by the algorithms – counting both titles, selections of the rows, and even the image thumbnails on every movie and series are personalized.
AGMTW wants to do the exact opposite and challenge us in our movie choices by recommending a diversity of quality movies:
"On Netflix, if you watch a cop movie, they will recommend ten trashy cop movies. On AGMTW, if you watch a cop movie, we will recommend an indie romance or a 90s Taiwanese drama."
Movies have always been a part of Bilal's life. He grew up in Morocco, and besides having the benefit of learning English from watching movies, he used it as an escape from reality:
"Film was like a third parent for me, a window into cultures that I identify with more than my own. It was an escape, an adventure, and a visa-less world where I could use the power of imagination to live anywhere without the shackles of the color of my passport", he says.
The idea of starting AGMTW – a film curation service designed to help people find what to watch on streaming platforms – came after watching the indie movie Short Term 12 from 2013:
"Short Term 12 was an incredible drama that was a commercial failure for some reason. Any film viewer looking for what to watch would be lucky to find Short Term 12. And in parallel, Short Term 12 deserves the audience that it never got. So I decided to start a platform that bridges the gap between both."
Bilal wants AGMTW to be the front page for streaming services, a place where audiences go, and after 1 to 2 clicks, they are redirected to Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any other popular streaming platform.
“Our audience is all film viewers: we try to curate for every mood, every age, and for stories from minorities,” he says.
The line between what Bilal are building – an algorithm alternative and a blog – is very thin. That's why AGMTW’s definition of a "good" movie includes objective rating criteria.
“We don't ask you to trust us based only on our tastes, but based on the tastes of every viewer and critic that has expressed their opinion on that particular film,” says he.
A few years ago, Netflix used to have a classic star rating system that gave insight into the quality of a title. However, they replaced it with a match percentage.
"They realized they can get people to watch low-quality Netflix Originals easier that way. We are the old star system – except we won't waste your time with the one, two, or three stars recommendations. We're only focused on the best titles you can stream", he claims.
With AGMTW, they can bring their recommendations as close as possible to their readers. They recently launched a Chrome extension that will allow you to see recommendations directly on Netflix.
"With the Chrome extension, we hope to mix Netflix's personalization with our objective criteria for what makes a movie good. The mobile application will also help us in getting closer to our readers – as you often wonder what to watch with your phone near you," Bilal says.