For many stuck inside during lockdown, streaming services have kept the movie-going experience alive – offering a safe alternative while cinemas remain shut.
But film director Martin Scorsese isn’t such a fan. In an essay for Harpers magazine, he’s warned that cinema is being “devalued… demeaned and reduced” by being thrown under the umbrella term “content”.
He specifically criticised a lack of curation on streaming platforms, saying algorithms, which provide recommendations based on individual or collective viewing habits, are damaging the art form and “treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else”.
It’s not the first time that Scorsese, the Oscar-winner behind classics including Raging Bull and Goodfellas, has spoken out against the state of the industry. In 2019, he bemoaned the multiplex’s reliance on superhero movies, comparing Marvel films to theme park rides.
But just how do these algorithms work and are they really as culturally damaging as Scorsese suggests?
Algorithms work out what you’re interested in and then give you more of it – using as many data points as they can get their hands on.
Film has long told a cautionary tale of computers and technology being developed to enhance and serve human interest. From The Terminator to The Matrix, the futuristic blockbuster message has consistently been that machines cannot be trusted.
And yet the entertainment industry increasingly relies on this concept to keep audiences watching.
Streaming-service algorithms use different aspects of your behaviour to inform