The Why #89: Why do Netflix’s recommendations feel so frustrating?

4 min readJul 4, 2024


Question submitted by Sophia, Helensvale

It doesn’t even matter which streaming service it is — you know the drill:

  1. Turn on the telly
  2. Open up Netflix/Disney+/Amazon Prime Video/Apple TV/Stan/Paramount+ (wait, I’m paying how much for all of these?)
  3. Proceed to scroll through the most inane, generic, infuriating list of recommendations until finally settling on reruns of the Kardashians (my wife) or another screening of everyone’s favourite period piece, White Men Cant Jump (me).

The launch of streaming services brought the promise of peak personalisation. The reality is a world in which we spend the entire time we have available to watch a show looking for a show to watch. At the same time, we actively (energetically?) reject the recommendations served up to us. Netflix, you don’t know me!

Or maybe Netflix does, and there’s something else at play…


Reactance refers to the psychological discomfort we feel when our freedom is limited or threatened. This discomfort can lead people to resist or push back against whatever is causing the threat.

In 2015, Stijn Van Petegem conducted a study on how parenting styles impact teenage rebelliousness. He observed the way over 200 teenagers reacted to being asked to study harder in a manner that was either controlling, neutral or supportive.

Not surprisingly, the study found that participants felt far more frustration when directed in a controlling way. Not only that, but they were also more likely to take the exact opposite route and avoid studying altogether. Oh the joys!

On one hand, the overwhelming catalogue of shows is enough to drive anyone batty, especially at the end of a long, hard day. On the other, being told what to watch (and what to like) feels like a suffocating overstep in a relationship that’s well beyond the honeymoon phase.

For Challenger Brands, Reactance is a good reminder to avoid leaving customers feeling restricted, forced or without options. Rather than direct instructions, consider more subtle or indirect techniques to provide a small set of thoughtful recommendations. Beyond this, customers can respond positively to being given extra autonomy and control, which is where customisation, personalisation and opportunities for providing direct feedback can make a meaningful difference.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why everyone seems to think that Gen Z is the absolute worst here.



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