Meet the Netflix executive responsible for your recommendations

There’s no red carpet for people who make sure Netflix provides an appealing user experience; no Emmy or Oscar for an app that gives you the right recommendations for what to watch next.

But those functions, when working correctly, are an advantage for Netflix in the streaming wars. Chief Product Officer Eunice Kim is the executive in charge of overseeing much of what makes Netflix tick — such as incorporating new features into the streaming service including live events, ads and mobile games.

Her team analyzes consumer behavior on Netflix to determine which shows and movies could excite viewers next on the streaming service and makes sure that the viewing experience is smooth. As such, she’s among the most important Netflix executives you’ve probably never heard of. That comes with the territory of being the person making sure Netflix is a seamless product, one of the most underappreciated aspects of the streaming wars.

“We make it look easy, but it’s not actually that easy under the hood,” said Kim. “If we’re doing our jobs, we shouldn’t be talking about the product all that much, but it should be working for people.”

Kim, who was promoted to the role in October, joined Netflix in early 2021. She previously served in product management roles at Google Play and YouTube. She grew up in Fremont, Calif., where her dad launched a startup out of their garage and she soldered motherboards. When she’s not looking at screens, she enjoys gardening.

She spoke with The Times in an interview at Netflix’s Los Gatos headquarters. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you see the Netflix product experience evolving as the company adds different types of content, like games or live events?

These new content types require us to really evolve the experience that lives today. We like to joke that our current homepage experience on TV is about 10 years old. That doesn’t mean we haven’t done tremendous amounts of work to improve it over time. But at its core, it’s remained the same and it really was built and designed for a streaming video-on-demand service. Every facet of how we’ve arranged everything anticipates an on-demand video experience.

LOS GATOS, CA – JAN 11: Eunice Kim, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer, is photographed at the Netflix offices in Los Gatos, CA on January 11, 2024.

(Benjamin Heath / For The Times)

Live TV is like, “Hey, everyone gather on the couch now and watch it now,” right? So the signals we send to people [to tell users] now’s the time to gather are super important. In games as well, the content engagement and pattern is very different. You can play the same game for a few years, if you’re really into it.

You’ve said Netflix users on average watch six genres. How do you anticipate what people are feeling like watching?

We want to pay attention a little bit more closely in real time to the way that you’re browsing the service, so that we can interpret that a little bit faster. For example, you dwelled a little bit on this trailer — that’s maybe of interest. We’re really just trying to make sure that timeliness is built a little bit more deeply into the way that we understand your needs.

To some extent, familiarity breeds interest. Like the first time you see something, you may or may not be paying attention, then you hear about it through word-of-mouth, maybe there’s an L.A. Times critic’s review that you saw, you see a TikTok video on that title, there’s the billboard that’s on Sunset Boulevard. So it may be all of those things lead up to some degree of interest for a title.

Let’s use an example to explain how the recommendations work. Like, say, the sci-fi movie “Rebel Moon.”

The very simple signals for us are that you are watching more content and that you’re showing us that you enjoy it, meaning that you finish the whole movie or you give it a thumbs up at the end. When we think about the categories that help us decide what we like, there are a couple of things we look for, including your past viewing behavior. Is “Rebel Moon” similar to other kinds of content that you watch on the service? Or you watched the trailer twice, or you added it to your list or you opened the email about “Rebel Moon.”

And then there’s what tells us how we know that “Rebel Moon” is a sci-fi movie. It sounds very basic, but when you have thousands of titles on the service, how do we classify that? Sci-fi is a broad category. “Dune” is a very different flavor from “Rebel Moon.” So the precision of our understanding of the content at what we call the metadata level also helps us understand the content similarities.

How does user behavior and data affect what trailers or promotion we see for Netflix content?

The way we present each title can be slightly different for each person. We might be playing up the angle about the race car drivers being part of a live event like “The Netflix Cup,” or the golf players being part of it because we think you’re going to recognize the face because we know that you watched “Formula 1: Drive to Survive.” Of course, not everyone who watches Netflix will be interested in a given event. We want to make sure we reach the right people. If we’ve never seen any indication that you have any interest in sports, it’s unlikely that we would put that in front of you.

How many different trailers are there for each show or movie?

For our bigger titles, we might have up to six on average.

There was a technical issue with the reality dating show “Love Is Blind’s” live reunion in April, which was one of Netflix’s early efforts in live programming. How has Netflix improved its livestreaming capabilities since then?

That was definitely a humbling moment for us. We definitely took stock and asked ourselves, what can we do better? We’ve really mainly just been focused on improving our technical capabilities and our operations behind this and are super excited about the way that we were able to pull off “The Netflix Cup” and more recent live events that we’ve had on the service. So we’re feeling pretty good, that we’ve learned from that and evolved from it.

In any complex technical system, there can be any number of things that go wrong, right? There’s never a world in products and tech where there are no mistakes. That’s just not possible. So really the name of the game is how quickly did you catch your mistakes and fix them? That’s half the battle in our world.

How is Netflix working to improve the experience for gamers? For example, on the mobile app, gamers still need to download the games via the Apple and Google app stores first, rather than have it be instantly playable on the Netflix app.

Downloading from the app stores is something we do because those are the policies that we abide by in partnership with Google and Apple. We try to make that discovery as simple and seamless as possible. I think about one feature we’re particularly proud of that made this easier for our members. If you’re on your iPhone and you find a game, we have what we call a “bottom sheet experience.” [It] just kind of slides up, and you can just press “install,” and that installs without landing you in the app store. That had a really nice bump in impact in terms of making that experience easier for our members.

Netflix has expanded the number of games it offers. Are games driving engagement?

We’re at almost 90 games right now. We’ve been very pleased with the progress we’ve made and met the goals that we had for 2023 around engagement.

How did you get interested in this type of work?

My dad did a classic hardware startup out of his garage. So from a young age, I learned how to solder motherboards and inventory microchips and would write marketing materials for COMDEX, which was the big computer trade show back then.

Discussions about technology and reading sci-fi were part of my family upbringing. It was ironic that I ran away to the East Coast for college to be a writer because I was just so tired of the tech-speak, but it drew me back because there’s something really profound about the way that technology can enable our lives and bring us joy. It can also bring us misery if we’re not careful. I think finding that right balance is super important.

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