Netflix denies changing artwork based on race of its users

Viewers have accused the streaming giant of "misleading" black users by prominently featuring black characters in TV and film posters — even if the characters have minor roles

Stranger Things, Netflix

Netflix has denied reports that it personalises marketing shots based on the individual user’s race.

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Viewers have accused the streaming giant of “misleading” black users by prominently featuring non-white characters in TV and film artwork — even if the actors have minor roles.

The issue was first raised on social media, as Netflix users posted screenshots of posters that prominently featured black characters even if they had “a ten cumulative minutes of screen time”.

Twitter user Stacia Brown asked “other black Netflix users” whether their Netflix queue “generate[d] posters with the black cast members on them to try to compel you to watch”, alongside an image of two black actors in a poster for Like Father, in which Kristen Bell leads a predominantly white cast.

Brown later tweeted that it was “weird to try to pass a film off as having a black principal cast…when it’s [Like Father] a white movie,” before accusing Netflix of deploying a “marketing trick”.

Twitter Kelly Quantrill responded to Brown’s roundup of personalised film posters. “Just to add my white data point, these are the thumbnails I see for some of the same movies you shared,” she said, showing how the site marketed the same films and shows using predominantly white actors.

Last year Netflix announced in a blog post that it would begin rolling out personalised artwork for films and TV shows – for example, Stranger Things – based on viewing history.

But the streaming giant has denied accusations that it bases its artwork on racial, gender or ethnic demographics.

“Reports that we look at demographics when personalising artwork are untrue,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a media statement.

“We don’t ask members for their race, gender or ethnicity so we cannot use this information to personalise their individual Netflix experience. The only information we use is a member’s viewing history.

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“In terms of thumbnails, these do differ and regularly change. This is to ensure that the images we show people are useful in deciding which shows to watch.”