When you log into your Netflix account — or, more realistically, your ex–significant other’s parents’ account which they borrowed from a friend that one time to watch House of Cards before it got ruined and then never stopped using — there’s an incredibly brief window of time for the company to convince you to watch something: approximately 1.8 seconds. “That’s how long viewers spend reviewing each title, on average, before moving on,” BuzzFeed News reports in a lengthy piece detailing Netflix’s strategy and corporate culture.
As we’ve written before, much of that is tied to thumbnail images: the pictures Netflix customizes based on your viewing history that it believes will make you most likely to watch a title. (Fun fact: Everything you see on your Netflix home page is customized. Even the section labeled “popular on Netflix.” That’s actually short for “popular on Netflix … with viewers who we’ve deemed to have similar tastes as you.”) Pictures with villains, and pictures where there are fewer than three people, and pictures where those people are demonstrating “complex emotions” all tend to do better. Of course, Netflix has also gotten into trouble for targeting viewers via thumbnail. Earlier this year, the company made headlines for purportedly showing thumbnails focusing on people of color in films and TV shows, even if those people weren’t actually the star of the content, to viewers of color. “We don’t ask members for their race, gender or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalize their individual Netflix experience,” the company later said in a statement. Which, sure, but a whole lot can be inferred — or at least Netflix thinks it can — from the one thing the company said it does track: “viewing history.”