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Season three of Black Mirror

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2016

The trailer for the third season of Charlie Brooker’s excellent Black Mirror just dropped. If you haven’t seen the first two seasons, I’d recommend catching yourself up. And did I spy Mackenzie Davis and Kelly Macdonald in the trailer? I did, I did. The new season starts October 21 on Netflix.

We Work Remotely

Every Netflix original series, ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2016

Over at Vulture, Kathryn VanArendonk ranked 36 Netflix original series from worst to best. It’s not a spoiler to say that Orange is the New Black is #1 (I haven’t seen it yet and guessed that it would be right at the top). Personally, I would rank Stranger Things and Kimmy Schmidt lower and Narcos, Making a Murderer, and Chef’s Table higher.

6. Narcos. An appealing, gripping, smart drama. The first episodes of Narcos sweep across decades and spend way too much time waving the exposition wand, but it somehow makes those tropes feel confident rather than tiresome. Yes, the story of Pablo Escobar covers well-trod Difficult Man territory, but Wagner Moura’s performance is charismatic and layered, and Narcos’ deadpan tone is a bracing way to frame Escobar’s often gruesome life.

What’s interesting is that Amazon’s best original show (Transparent), several of HBO’s original series, and at least 2 AMC shows are better than anything on this list (aside from possibly OITNB).

Trailer for Christopher Guest’s new mockumentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2016

Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show) is coming out with a new mockumentary for Netflix about a competition to determine the best sports mascot.

Slow TV comes to Netflix

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2016

Earlier this month, Netflix debuted a number of slow TV shows on their service, including shows about knitting and firewood, which were very popular in Norway. Here’s the complete roster:

National Firewood Evening
National Firewood Morning
National Firewood Night
National Knitting Evening
National Knitting Morning
National Knitting Night
Northern Passage
Northern Railway
Salmon Fishing
The Telemark Canal
Train Ride Bergen to Oslo

Update: Looks like a few of these programs, most notably Northern Passage and Northern Railway, are not the complete end-to-end shows that were originally broadcast. So, FYI.

Also, these shows are getting terrible ratings on Netflix. Aside from the two shorter shows mentioned above, each show has a rating of only one star. (Further update: Netflix’s ratings are personalized, which means those ratings are specific to me. Others might see 4 or 5 stars. thx, @Rudien)

The music and the opening titles of Stranger Things

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2016

Like many of you, I have been watching Stranger Things on Netflix. My 80s movie fixations tilted towards the War Games/Explorers/Goonies end of the spectrum rather than the supernatural/horror/Steven King end so I’m not obsessed, but I am definitely enjoying it. You can watch the first 8 minutes of the show to judge for yourself.

But I love the opening credits, especially the music. (Both remind me of the opening credits for Halt and Catch Fire.) The title song was composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, members of Austin synth band Survive. Someone did a 10-minute extended version of the song and put it up on Soundcloud:

Currently on repeat for the last hour with no sign of stopping. You may also be interested in a pair of playlists featuring music from the show:

What else? Here’s a deep dive into the font used for the opening credits (which was also used for the Choose Your Own Adventure books back in the 80s). Alissa Walker wrote about the free-range children on display in ST, something that also grabbed my attention. When I was a kid, I rode my bike everywhere. On summer weekends, I typically ate breakfast at my house and was gone until dinnertime. My parents had no clue where I was or what I was up to…and none of my classmates’ parents did either.

Update: Garrett Shane Bryant made a 50-track playlist of songs that sound like the score of the show. Outstanding. (via @dozens)

Update: From the NY Times, The ‘Stranger Things’ School of Parenting.

Still, “Stranger Things” is a reminder of a kind of unstructured childhood wandering that — because of all the cellphones, the fear of child molesters, a move toward more involved parenting or a combination of all three — seems less possible than it once was.

The show’s references to beloved films of the ’80s have been much remarked upon, but “Stranger Things” also calls to mind all those books and TV shows — from “The Chronicles of Narnia” to “Muppet Babies” — where parents are either absent or pushed into the background.

These stories let children imagine breaking the rules, but they also allow them to picture themselves solving mysteries or hunting down monsters all on their own. Often it’s only when the parents aren’t watching that a child can become a hero.

(via @CognoscoCuro)

Update: The official soundtrack for the show is available on iTunes. It’s the score though, not the classic 80s tunes.

Update: Vox spoke to a creative director at Imaginary Forces about their process for designing the opening titles.

Update: And the score is now available on Spotify. This is my working music for the day.

Trailer for Narcos season two

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2016

Narcos season 2 starts on Netflix on September 2. Oh, how I missed that stare! Wagner Moura is fantastic.

What’s new on Netflix for the July 4th weekend?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2016

If you’re looking to avoid the family or ocean or grilled meats or fireworks, there are some seriously good movies that have been added to Netflix in the US just in time for the long holiday weekend:

Mean Girls
Beverly Hills Cop
Gladiator
Back to the Future (I II & III)
Deliverance
Lethal Weapon
The Sting

And The Big Short arrives on July 6.

Amazon now offering monthly Prime subscriptions

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2016

Amazon is now offering the ability to subscribe to Prime and Prime Video monthly rather than just yearly. Prime Video is $8.99/mo (Netflix is going up to $9.99/mo soon) and the full Prime offering is $10.99/mo. A year of Prime is still $99.

In Prime Video, Amazon has built a worthy competitor to Netflix. And it actually might be better at this point. The stable of impressive Netflix originals aside (which Amazon is also doing *cough* Transparent *cough* best show in years), Amazon allows you to rent/buy digital movies not available for free streaming1, provides discounts for subscriptions to Showtime and Starz, and (if you opt for the full Prime) offers free shipping on most stuff in the store (as well as other benefits.) I sub to both services, but if I had to make a choice right now, I’d probably stick with Amazon.

  1. What Amazon should do, to really sweeten the deal (if the movie studios would allow such a thing), is offer Prime-only discounts on renting and buying digital movies and shows. So not only would you get a bunch of free streaming movies, you can rent new-to-video movies, and they’re cheaper than at iTunes. That’s something that Netflix can’t offer right now. I wonder if they’ll add a digital video store to their offering to compete?

Michael Pollan gets his own Netflix series

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2016

Food writer Michael Pollan — author of The Botany of Desire (my fave of his) and originator of the world’s best simple diet: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” — is the subject of a four-part Netflix series called Cooked. The series is based on Pollan’s book of the same name and debuts on February 19.

Each episode will focus on a different natural element and its relationship to both ancient and modern cooking methods. In the “Fire” episode, Pollan will delve into the cross-cultural tradition of barbecue by looking at fire-roasts of monitor lizards in Western Australia and visiting with a barbecue pitmaster; in the “Water” episode, he’ll take lessons from kitchens in India and cover the issues surrounding processed foods. An episode titled “Air” explores the science of bread-making and gluten, while the final episode, “Earth,” looks at how fermentation preserves raw foods. Every episode will also feature Pollan in his home kitchen in Berkeley, California, with the intention of underscoring the viewpoint that “surrounded as we are by fast food culture and processed foods, cooking our own meals is the single best thing we can do to take charge of our health and well being.”

Announcing this show only a month out and unaccompanied by a trailer? I have no idea what Netflix is thinking sometimes.

Update: Cooked is now available on Netflix. The NY Times has a review. (via @Ilovetoscore)

Netflix is making more Black Mirror

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2015

Black Mirror

Netflix and Charlie Brooker have agreed to make 12 more episodes of the fantastic Black Mirror.

Netflix has commissioned House of Tomorrow to produce the twelve new episodes as a Netflix original series. House of Tomorrow’s Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, who executive produced the first seven episodes of the series, will continue to serve as executive producers and showrunners for the new episodes. Brooker has commenced writing the new episodes, which are scheduled to begin production in late 2015 from the series’ production base in the UK.

“It’s all very exciting — a whole new bunch of Black Mirror episodes on the most fitting platform imaginable. Netflix connects us with a global audience so that we can create bigger, stranger, more international and diverse stories than before, whilst maintaining that ‘Black Mirror’ feel. I just hope none of these new story ideas come true,” said Brooker.

My three favorite TV shows from the past 5 years: Mad Men, Transparent, and Black Mirror. Second tier: Breaking Bad, Sherlock, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, and Boardwalk Empire. (via @mccanner)

The privilege of employer-sponsored parental leave

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2015

Netflix made big news by increasing its maternity and paternity leave to a year. But in a really interesting piece, The New Yorker’s Vauhini Vara provides some historical and economic background and makes the case why not all paid family leave regulations should be left up to private employers:

Among the earners of the highest wages, twenty-two per cent have access to paid family leave, while among the lowest earners, only four per cent do. It turns out that a disparity exists even within Netflix.

The password sharing economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2015

Netflix and HBO know what you did last summer. And they know you’re still doing it this summer. The sharing of login credentials is so widespread that the big streaming players are losing hundreds of millions a year. So why don’t they stop us? Two reasons: It’s all about growth at this point. And no one has come up with a way to limit credential sharing without hurting the customer experience.

Amazon is a different kind of movie studio. It’s all about getting more people to become Prime members.

You can have the best technology, you can have the best business model, but if the storytelling isn’t amazing, it won’t matter. Nobody will watch. And then you won’t sell more shoes.

A Very Murray Christmas

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2015

Netflix will air a Christmas special starring Bill Murray and directed by Sofia Coppola. That is an amazing collection of proper nouns all together in the same sentence.

Written by Sofia Coppola, Bill Murray and Mitch Glazer and directed by Sofia Coppola, A Very Murray Christmas is described as an homage to the classic variety show featuring Bill Murray playing himself, as he worries no one will show up to his TV show due to a terrible snow storm in New York City. Through luck and perseverance, guests arrive at the Carlyle hotel to help him; dancing and singing in holiday spirit.

(via several kind people)

Netflix orders Green Eggs and Ham

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2015

Netflix is making a 13-episode animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. The show will premiere in 2018 and the official press release shows that Netflix is fully committed to the premise:

Issued from Netflix headquarters.
Delivered straight to all reporters.

We’d love to share some happy news
based on the rhymes of Dr. Seuss.
Green Eggs and Ham will become a show
and you’re among the first to know.

In this richly animated production,
a 13-episode introduction,
standoffish inventor (Guy, by name)
and Sam-I-Am of worldwide fame,
embark on a cross-country trip
that tests the limits of their friendship.
As they learn to try new things,
they find out what adventure brings.
Of course they also get to eat
that famous green and tasty treat!

Cindy Holland, VP of Original Content for Netflix
threw her quote into the mix:
“We think this will be a hit
Green Eggs and Ham is a perfect fit
for our growing slate of amazing stories
available exclusively in all Netflix territories.
You can stream it on a phone.
You can stream it on your own.
You can stream it on TV.
You can stream it globally.”

For reference, here’s an animated version of Green Eggs and Ham done in the 70s:

Human/computer partnerships are potent

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2015

Tim Wu writes for the New Yorker about how Netflix uses a ~70/30 combination of data and human judgment to determine their recommendations and what shows/movies to make.

Over the years, however, I’ve started to wonder whether Netflix’s big decisions are truly as data driven as they are purported to be. The company does have more audience data than nearly anyone else (with the possible exception of YouTube), so it has a reason to emphasize its comparative advantage. But, when I was reporting a story, a couple of years ago, about Netflix’s embrace of fandom over mass culture, I began to sense that their biggest bets always seemed ultimately driven by faith in a particular cult creator, like David Fincher (“House of Cards”), Jenji Leslie Kohan (“Orange is the New Black”), Ricky Gervais (“Derek”), John Fusco (“Marco Polo”), or Mitchell Hurwitz (“Arrested Development”). And, while Netflix does not release its viewership numbers, some of the company’s programming, like “Marco Polo,” hasn’t seemed to generate the same audience excitement as, say, “House of Cards.” In short, I do think that there is a sophisticated algorithm at work here — but I think his name is Ted Sarandos.

I presented Sarandos with this theory at a Sundance panel called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Algorithm,” moderated by Jason Hirschhorn, formerly of MySpace. Sarandos, very agreeably, wobbled a bit. “It is important to know which data to ignore,” he conceded, before saying, at the end, “In practice, its probably a seventy-thirty mix.” But which is the seventy and which is the thirty? “Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment,” he told me later. Then he paused, and said, “But the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense.”

This reminds me of the situation in chess, where cyborg human/computer teams can beat computer- or human-only players in chess, although perhaps for not much longer.

Some of you will know that Average is Over contains an extensive discussion of “freestyle chess,” where humans can use any and all tools available — most of all computers and computer programs — to play the best chess game possible. The book also notes that “man plus computer” is a stronger player than “computer alone,” at least provided the human knows what he is doing. You will find a similar claim from Brynjolfsson and McAfee.

Computer chess expert Kenneth W. Regan has compiled extensive data on this question, and you will see that a striking percentage of the best or most accurate chess games of all time have been played by man-machine pairs. Ken’s explanations are a bit dense for those who don’t already know chess, computer chess, Freestyle and its lingo, but yes that is what he finds, click on the links in his link for confirmation. In this list for instance the Freestyle teams do very very well.

I wonder what the human/cyborg split is at Buzzfeed or Facebook? Or at food companies like McDonald’s or Kraft? Or at Goldman Sachs?

Jiro Dreams, the sequel

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2014

David Gelb, the director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, is going to be doing a six-part documentary series for Netflix about “culinary artists”.

Chefs featured in the docu-series are: Ben Shewry (of Attica Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia), Magnus Nilsson (Fäviken in Järpen Sweden), Francis Mallmann (El Restaurante Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires, Argentina), Niki Nakayama (N/Naka Restaurant in Los Angeles), Dan Barber (Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.) and Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy).

Sounds a lot like a Jiro Dreams series. Looking forward to it. (via @MattH)

Update: The trailer for this series, Chef’s Table, is now out:

That looks fantastic. Available on Netflix on April 26th.

John Hodgman’s Ragnarok

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2013

As part of the media company’s push for original programming, John Hodgman’s comedy special, Ragnarok, is exclusively streaming on Netflix right now.

Deranged Millionaire, John Hodgman, and his infamous moustache dispense their survival guide to the Mayan apocalypse or as he’s deemed it “RAGNAROK”. With his eccentric list of post-apocalyptic necessities, beef jerky dollars, sperm whales and mayonnaise, John Hodgman entertains the audience in the face of impending doom.

Heeeeere’s a trailer:

Date for new Arrested Development: May 26th

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2013

Netflix has announced that the 15 episodes of the new season of Arrested Development will be released, all at once, on May 26th. Netflix did not announce that later that day, all 15 episodes will be available on BitTorrent.

Movie recommendations and the time-shifted self

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2012

Remember the Netflix Prize, the $1 million challenge cooked up by Netflix to improve their movie recommendation engine by 10%? Turns out they never implemented the winning algorithm, in part because their movie streaming service changed the game.

One of the reasons our focus in the recommendation algorithms has changed is because Netflix as a whole has changed dramatically in the last few years. Netflix launched an instant streaming service in 2007, one year after the Netflix Prize began. Streaming has not only changed the way our members interact with the service, but also the type of data available to use in our algorithms. For DVDs our goal is to help people fill their queue with titles to receive in the mail over the coming days and weeks; selection is distant in time from viewing, people select carefully because exchanging a DVD for another takes more than a day, and we get no feedback during viewing. For streaming members are looking for something great to watch right now; they can sample a few videos before settling on one, they can consume several in one session, and we can observe viewing statistics such as whether a video was watched fully or only partially.

(via waxy)

Netflix explodes into two companies

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2011

Qwikster will rent you DVDs and Netflix will rent you streaming movies. Two separate sites/companies, no interop, you have to sub to both separately, etc. Here’s the explanation from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. This seems amazingly dumb at first blush. (ps. Qwikster?!!)

Update: This is an excellent level-headed analysis of the deal from Dan Frommer.

Netflix’s holy grail is to get each person, not each household, to have a separate streaming subscription, the way everyone also has a separate Facebook account. Separating a per-household service like DVD rentals-by-mail helps simplify that eventual transition.

A budget for Babel

posted by Tim Carmody   May 04, 2011

Last night I started thinking about e-books, partly because I was frustrated that I wanted to buy some books that aren’t available for Kindle. (If you’re curious, the two I was pining over were John Ashbery’s new translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations and Eugene Jolas’s Critical Writings: 1924-1951.)

Truth be told, I probably would have talked myself out of the purchases anyways, because I haven’t had any spare money for my drug of choice (books) in a while. But I was bothered because I couldn’t buy them. I wanted them, and if I had enough money, I wanted them all. And if I could have them all, I’d find a way to get enough money.

So I took to Twitter with this idea, with the following results.

So, so far, we’ve got a few different possible models (assuming everything could be worked out on the back end with author consumption, etc., which is a pretty gigantic assumption):

  1. Every book that’s ever been made digital or easily could be made digital (I’ll come back to this second point later);
  2. The same thing for movies and TVs. Which might be an even bigger, more popular idea;
  3. A curated digital book club/book channel, a la Netflix, that offers you enough popular and backlist material to keep you busy;
  4. What else?

Casey Gollan also pointed me to a similar thought-experiment a couple of years ago by Kevin Kelly:

Very likely, in the near future, I won’t “own” any music, or books, or movies. Instead I will have immediate access to all music, all books, all movies using an always-on service, via a subscription fee or tax. I won’t buy - as in make a decision to own — any individual music or books because I can simply request to see or hear them on demand from the stream of ALL. I may pay for them in bulk but I won’t own them. The request to enjoy a work is thus separated from the more complicated choice of whether I want to “own” it. I can consume a movie, music or book without having to decide or follow up on ownership.

For many people this type of instant universal access is better than owning. No responsibility of care, backing up, sorting, cataloging, cleaning, or storage. As they gain in public accessibility, books, music and movies are headed to become social goods even though they might not be paid by taxes. It’s not hard to imagine most other intangible goods becoming social goods as well. Games, education, and health info are also headed in that direction.

And Mark Sample noted that really, you already can get almost any book, movie, TV show, etc., if you’re willing to put in a little work and don’t mind circumventing the law.

Here’s a thought: How would this change the way we read? If I haven’t laid down money for a particular book, would I feel less obligated to stick it through to the end? I’d probably do a lot more dipping and diving. I’d be quicker to say, “this isn’t doing it for me — what else is on?”

And remember, a lot of the books — cookbooks, textbooks, reference material — would be geared for browsing, not reading straight through. We might actually find ourselves plunking down extra money for a digital app with a better UI.

Ditto, imagine the enhanced prestige of rare books that were off this universal grid, or whose three-dimensionality couldn’t be reduced (without difficulty, if at all) to an e-book.

Still, I think whatever I pay for cable, internet, my cellphone’s data plan, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, Dropbox backups, etc. — I’d pay way more for the Library of Babel.

What do you think? What would you need to make this work for you?

(Comments enabled. I’ll shut ‘em down at the end of the week. Be nice.)

Expiring Netflix Watch Instantly alerts

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2011

queuenoodle is a Twitter account that will tell you when movies expire from Netflix Watch Instantly so you can, uh, watch them. Brought you by Twitter’s media pastamaker, Robin Sloan.

Bieber, Gaga, and Netflix: Internet heavyweights

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2010

Justin Bieber uses 3% of Twitter’s infrastructure. Netflix Instant accounts for 20% of all non-mobile internet usage in the US during prime time. Now David Galbraith has done some back-of-the-envelope calculations that show Lady Gaga racking up a big bandwidth bill for Google:

My rough estimate: Lady Gaga has cost Google 10 petabytes in bandwidth same as 10,000 text messages for everyone on earth. If Lady Gaga’s Google bandwidth was charged at what ATT charges for SMS, it would have cost: 10.5 trillion dollars.

The rate for SMS messaging is obscene but the real money is in ink cartridges, right? Apparently not. HP’s basic black inkjet cartridge is available at Amazon for the astounding price of $29 and will print 495 pages. Assuming 250 words per page and six characters per word (five char/word + one space), 10 petabytes of text messages would cost only $503 billion to print out (excluding paper costs, which would add ~$89 billion to the total). Who knew that texting was more expensive than inkjet printing by a factor of 20?

When strengths become weaknesses

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2010

Using Blockbuster and Netflix (and Redbox) as an example, James Surowiecki writes about how big incumbent companies can lose out to smaller upstarts.

The problem — in Blockbuster’s case, at least — was that the very features that people thought were strengths turned out to be weaknesses. Blockbuster’s huge investment, both literally and psychologically, in traditional stores made it slow to recognize the Web’s importance: in 2002, it was still calling the Net a “niche” market. And it wasn’t just the Net. Blockbuster was late on everything — online rentals, Redbox-style kiosks, streaming video. There was a time when customers had few alternatives, so they tolerated the chain’s limited stock, exorbitant late fees (Blockbuster collected about half a billion dollars a year in late fees), and absence of good advice about what to watch. But, once Netflix came along, it became clear that you could have tremendous variety, keep movies as long as you liked, and, thanks to the Netflix recommendation engine, actually get some serviceable advice. (Places like Netflix and Amazon have demonstrated the great irony that computer algorithms can provide a more personalized and engaging customer experience than many physical stores.) Then Redbox delivered the coup de grace, offering new Hollywood releases for just a dollar.

From Scott McCloud, here’s Blockbuster’s new logo.

Map of Netflix nation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2010

Fascinating map of Netflix rental patterns for NYC, Atlanta, Miami, and nine other US cities. I wonder if you could predict voting patterns according to where people rent Paul Blart: Mall Cop or Frost/Nixon. I wonder what the map for Napoleon Dynamite looks like?

Update: Here’s how the Times’ graphic was made.

Most of the interesting trends occurred on a local scale — stark differences between the South Bronx and Lower Manhattan, for example, or the east and west sides of D.C. — and weren’t particularly telling at a national scale. (We actually generated U.S. maps in PDF form that showed all 35,000 or so ZIPs, but when we flipped through them, with a few exceptions, we found the nationwide patterns weren’t nearly as interesting as the close-in views.)

How to build a long-lived culture of excellence

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2009

I loved this deck of slides from an internal presentation at Netflix on their company’s culture.

This slide deck is our current best thinking about maximizing our likelihood of continuous success.

There are literally dozens of great ideas on these 128 slides…a must-read for anyone who wants their business to grow and last for more than a few years.

Netflix Prize won?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2009

It looks as though the Netflix Prize might have been won through a combined effort of the top two teams. (thx, bergmayer)

Update: All teams have 30 days to better the current high score before the winner is declared. But, someone has won the Prize. (thx, all)

Netflix Prize progress

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2009

A check of the Netflix Prize leaderboard shows that the team in the lead is very close to the 10% improvement needed to win the $1 million prize with 9.71%. Three members of the top team recently wrote about their experience for IEEE Spectrum.

The Roku adds support for Amazon

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2009

The Roku is a wee box that hooks up to your internet and TV over which you can stream movies and TV shows. Until recently, the Roku only worked with Netflix (the streaming is free and unlimited with your Netflix acct) but the Roku added support for Amazon’s Video On Demand service the other day, bringing Amazon’s 40,000+ movie titles into the mix. I have friends that love this thing.

BTW, Amazon is getting good at closing the loop on this stuff. Like Apple (Apple TV / iTunes Store), they’re not only selling the media but also the device.

The Netflix Prize and the Case of the Napoleon Dynamite Problem

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2008

Clive Thompson writes up the Netflix Prize — which offers $1 million to the first team to improve upon Netflix’s default recommendation algorithm by 10% — and the vexing Napoleon Dynamite problem that is thwarting all comers.

Bertoni says it’s partly because of “Napoleon Dynamite,” an indie comedy from 2004 that achieved cult status and went on to become extremely popular on Netflix. It is, Bertoni and others have discovered, maddeningly hard to determine how much people will like it. When Bertoni runs his algorithms on regular hits like “Lethal Weapon” or “Miss Congeniality” and tries to predict how any given Netflix user will rate them, he’s usually within eight-tenths of a star. But with films like “Napoleon Dynamite,” he’s off by an average of 1.2 stars.

The reason, Bertoni says, is that “Napoleon Dynamite” is very weird and very polarizing. It contains a lot of arch, ironic humor, including a famously kooky dance performed by the titular teenage character to help his hapless friend win a student-council election. It’s the type of quirky entertainment that tends to be either loved or despised. The movie has been rated more than two million times in the Netflix database, and the ratings are disproportionately one or five stars.

This behavior was flagged as an issue by denizens of the Netflix Prize message board soon after the contest was announced two years ago.

Those are the movies you either loved loved loved or hated hated hated. These are the movies you can argue with your friends about. And good old ‘Miss Congeniality’ is right up there in the #4 spot. Also not surprising to see up here are: ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ (I hated it), ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ (I loved it), and ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (didn’t see it, but odds are, I’d hate it).

After finding that post, I wrote a little bit about why these movies are so contentious.

The thing that all those kinds of movies have in common is that if you’re outside of the intended audience for a particular movie, you probably won’t get it. That means that if you hear about a movie that’s highly recommended within a certain group and you’re not in that group, you’re likely to hate it. In some ways, these are movies intended for a narrow audience, were highly regarded within that audience, tried to cross over into wider appeal, and really didn’t make it.