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Netflix has made a science out of influencing your decisions

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Finding a series or film to watch on Netflix seems pretty straightforward: You see something you like, so you click on it. Simple, right? Not so much. Your interest isn’t dictated simply by whims. As Nick Nelson, the company’s global manager of creative services, explained in a new blog post, Netflix has spent years gathering data on how to appeal to users with a single image.

When a user opens up Netflix, Nelson revealed, the streamer has about 90 seconds to sell them on something to watch before they lose interest. On top of that, users spend less than two seconds on average considering different titles. With time being of the essence, pictures matter because they’re processed quickly by our brains.

Relevant research supports this approach, of course. Nelson cited consumer research studies conducted in 2014 that found that images garnered 82 percent of members’ focus while browsing through the content library. As a result, Netflix has been using title card artwork to make its pitch to viewers. The pictures are nothing if not deliberate.

It’s no mistake that the streamer has moved away from using a group shot of the Orange Is the New Black cast on subsequent title cards, for example. Apparently, we prefer to see three or fewer characters, and we want the ones we see to be recognizable. As such, images of the hit comedy-drama’s star Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) were featured for seasons 2 and 3 instead.

We also want big emotions, so forget any placid expressions. It turns out that polarizing characters engage viewers as well. “Our members respond to villainous characters surprisingly well in both kids and action genres in particular,” Nelson wrote.

Evidently, what Netflix is doing has been working. The streaming service has been wresting viewers away from cable and other platforms and hooking them on its content instead. “It is clear that an image can move people in powerful ways,” Nelson said, “and done right, pictures can help people find the stories that they will love even faster.”

Maybe you don’t have to be so hard on yourself about the number of hours you’ve spent burning through Netflix’s offerings. After all, the company’s systematic research and analysis made you do it.

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