Netflix Can Predict Exactly What You'll Click On—and Why

They know you better than you know yourself. Creepy.

When you're looking for something to watch on Netflix, certain things can just draw you in—and not just movie posters featuring Colin Firth. Netflix has cracked the code to figure out what images you'll click on, so you get sucked in quickly for a daylong binge-watching session.

Nick Nelson, Netflix's global manager of creative services, detailed the research in a company blog post. "Broadly, we know that if you don't capture a member's attention within 90 seconds, that member will likely lose interest and move onto another activity," he wrote. When you browse the site, you spend 82% of your time looking at artwork, rather than reading titles or descriptions. So if Netflix doesn't give you photos that look cool, you'll likely just close the tab and check Facebook again instead. 

Armed with that information, Netflix figured out exactly what gets users to click on a photo, and the results are a fascinating look at what makes us tick. If an image features a person, that person should be showing a complex emotion, not simply happiness or sadness. They illustrated that with promos for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; the winner had Kimmy and Titus reacting to something in an inscrutable way.

Photos showing villains or controversial characters are also more clicky, as are images featuring three people or less. When it comes to Orange Is the New Black, a tiny thumbnail with a giant ensemble didn't do as well as a thumbnail featuring Piper alone. And these trends can differ from country to country; people in Germany clicked on a more artsy photo for Sense8, while U.S. viewers preferred a photo of one of the main characters.

So if you suddenly see Jessica Jones advertised with Kilgrave mysteriously smirking at you, now you know why.

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Megan Friedman

Megan Friedman is the former managing editor of the Newsroom at Hearst. She's worked at NBC and Time, and is a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.