Why I nearly always underrate titles on Netflix

I was definitely late to the DVD-by-mail game, but when I finally decided to take the plunge I chose Blockbuster because (at the time) it offered the best deal for me. Streaming selection on both Netflix and Blockbuster was practically nonexistent, but Blockbuster’s ability to trade at the store won me over. Eventually things changed and I switched to Netflix.

One of the first things I immediately disliked about the switch was the rating system.

Blockbuster allowed for half stars, which meant I could rate movies from half a star all the way to five stars, effectively giving me a 1–10 rating system. However, Netflix only offers full star ratings, giving me a 1–5 rating system.

Big deal, right? Well, it kind of is.

By cutting my rating choices in half, it forces to me to more tightly group titles together. Netflix’s help text doesn’t, err, help the situation either, by using words that evoke strong emotion.

  1. Click to rate the movie “Hated It”
  2. Click to rate the movie “Didn’t Like It”
  3. Click to rate the movie “Liked It”
  4. Click to rate the movie “Really Liked It”
  5. Click to rate the movie “Loved It”

By not giving me intermediate choices, I have to really think about which one of these five categories to place it in. (Don’t get me started on using the word “click”.)

My personal Netflix rating looks something like this:

  1. Not entertaining; waste of time
  2. Entertaining; nothing special; major plot holes or pacing issues
  3. Entertaining; solid movie
  4. Very entertaining or intriguing; would recommend to friends and watch again
  5. Masterpiece; very special to me

The problem with my own system is the majority of titles get ranked at two or three stars. In fact, a lot of movies that I enjoyed are rated a two, which according to Netflix means “I didn’t like it.” This isn’t necessarily a problem for me, but it does down rank titles for other users and influence my Netflix recommendations. (The flip side of this is that other people may overrate titles, as I am especially stingy rating anything a five.)

If there were intermediate options, then I could both follow my system and accurately rate movies for others. There are a lot of titles I ranked at either two or three, but would really rate anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5, which forces me to round up or down (usually down.) For me specifically, the problem is more prevalent on the low end of the scale.

For reference here is Blockbuster’s rating system:

  1. I really hated this movie.
  2. I hated this movie.
  3. I really didn’t like this movie.
  4. I didn’t like this movie.
  5. This movie was just so-so.
  6. This movie was okay.
  7. I liked this movie.
  8. I really liked this movie.
  9. I loved this movie.
  10. I absolutely loved this movie.

Really Blockbuster’s help text is very similar to Netflix’s (if you compare the even numbers of Blockbuster’s to Netflix’s, they are effectively the same) but their inclusion of qualifier words and intermediate choices allows for greater flexibility while more accurately reflecting my opinion.

Of course this brings up the question: if ten is more accurate why not 20? There definitely has to be a cut off point, but I believe Netflix’s choice of five is too few.