27
Oct

Halloween on Netflix

Leave a Comment  /  Posted in Movies

October is the perfect time for horror-movie binge watching, and Netflix provides some excellent options.  This Halloween, try streaming a few of these scary movies:

The Dark Humor
Odd Thomas
If you’re a horror-movie fanatic, you may enjoy your comedy with a side of creepy.  If you want to laugh as much as squirm, Odd Thomas won’t leave you disappointed.  The movie follows the escapades of the aptly named “Odd,” a short-order cook with the gift of seeing the supernatural.  Anton Yelchin manages to portray depth and tragedy right alongside humor and levity in this fantasy-horror movie.  Odd Thomas is funny, gruesome, and at times surprisingly heart-wrenching – definitely worth the watch.

The Teen Scream
The Craft
What slumber-party in the nineties was complete without the witchy-revenge of The Craft?  When the main character moves to a new town, she finds friends in three other outcasts rumored to be witches.  When the girls discover their power to get payback on kids at school, things get dark quickly, and the newcomer must find a way to escape the group with her life.  Get a bag of popcorn and a bottle of glitter nail polish and let the good times roll.

The Mind Trip
The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods is really a tribute to horror movie fans everywhere.  I love that even though the movie is filled with archetypes, stereotypes, and seemingly familiar horror-movie plots, even the most die-hard horror fan will find something new and surprising in this rollercoaster ride of a movie.  The movie starts out typically enough, with a group of college students heading for a weekend at a cabin in the woods.  But nothing is what it seems in this tale, and the college students soon discover a world where horror plays a distinct and crucial role.

The Haunted House (With a Twist)
Haunter
Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin is all grown-up and seems to have a real knack for horror.  She stars in this story of a haunted house, or rather a haunted family, stuck in a time loop seemingly without end.  The only person who seems to notice this loop is the teenage daughter, so she takes it upon herself to try to free her family from eternal déjà vu.  Personally, I liked that the audience knows from the beginning that the family are haunting the house.  It puts more focus of a deeper plot that gives this haunting-horror movie a unique twist.

The Classic
Rosemary’s Baby
Ah, Roman Polanski’s classic.  A young couple move into a new apartment, and the wife thinks that life is going great – her actor husband has landed a dream role and they are expecting their first child.  But she slowly grows suspicious that their intrusive neighbors have a dangerous, slightly Satanic interest in her unborn child.  Even if you don’t normally watch horror movies, this mystery thriller should be the top of any to-watch list.

 
20
Oct

Netflix Takes on Europe

Leave a Comment  /  Posted in Algorithm, Reed Hastings

Netflix recently launched in France, and Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland will soon follow suit.  The move has been expected for a while, and CEO Reed Hastings has named Spain, Korea, and Japan as possible future markets.

As the next phases of the expansion unfold, Netflix will be pressed to add significant content and make other investments before it starts to see a profit.  The large data center built by Netflix in Paris has enabled Netflix to get off to a fast start, unlike the company’s slower expansion in Latin America.

Netflix is already backing the making of an original French series, “Marseille,” a move toward content creation that took much longer in the U.S.

This expansion could also give Netflix a powerful new ally in the fight for net neutrality – the European Union, which is currently considering reforms that would solidify net neutrality in law.  “The advantage of net neutrality is that it allows new Internet services to grow without needing the permission of network operators,” said Hastings. “I think it needs to be inscribed in European law.”

Read more here: Netflix will focus on ramping up in Europe over next year

 
13
Oct

What’s New on Netflix

Leave a Comment  /  Posted in Blog Post

We all watch Netflix’s “New Releases” category and hope for a new favorite or a wonderful blast from the past.  Throughout the month of October, Netflix will be adding new shows and movies.  Here are a few that we’re particularly excited about:

1. Gilmore Girls – Starting October 1, the complete series of Gilmore Girls will be available.  Social media has been buzzing with excitement over this funny and heart-felt show about a mother and daughter set in picturesque Connecticut town.  If you’ve never watched Gilmore Girls, don’t start until you have time to binge-watch.  Trust us, you’ll want to watch one episode right after the other, in true Netflix-fashion.

2. Tombstone – Everyone loves Tombstone.  It’s the quintessential “western for people who don’t like westerns.”  The movie is based around the true story of a gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.  Kurt Russell stars in the movie as Wyatt Earp, but it’s Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holliday that really steals the show.  So even if you’ve never watched a western before in your life, pop a bowl of popcorn and give Tombstone a whirl.

3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – The world has Hunger Games fever, and Netflix will be adding to the flame by streaming Catching Fire on October 22.  The timing is perfect, since this gives fans time to enjoy the Catching Fire on Netflix before the theater release of the third movie installment of the franchise in November.  This dystopian story line is from Suzanne Collins’ highly successful book series for young adults, featuring Katniss Everdeen as she fights for her life and the lives of her loved ones in the strange and terrifying world of Panem.

4. Rain Man – The awards for this movie are staggering – it got the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.  On top of that, Dustin Hoffman was awarded the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal as Raymond Babbit.  The story follows Charlie Babbit, played by Tom Cruise, who only finds out about his autistic savant brother Raymond after the death of their father.  When Charlie’s father leaves all of his money in a trust fund for Raymond, Charlie takes him on a cross-country trip to his home in California in a desperate bid for his father’s millions.  On the way, brotherly bonding of an Oscar-worthy level occurs.

5. Galaxy Quest – If you want a good, goofy movie, you can’t get much better than Galaxy Quest.  The movie centers around the cast of a sci-fi television show that has long since stopped running.  But since the actors aren’t able to get any other acting jobs after their cult-hit, they rely on paid appearances at conventions and businesses.  Life is long and somewhat sad for most of the cast, but things change when an alien race comes to the cast for help.  After watching the show, which the Thermians believe is true, the come to the actors to help them defeat their enemy.

For  a complete list of the movies and shows being added during October, click here.

 
08
Oct

Netflix Ratings Mix with Rotten Tomatoes on A Better Queue

Leave a Comment  /  Posted in Algorithm, Blog Post

Netflix’s complicated algorithm for ratings already does a pretty good job of matching users with movies and shows they would like, but Dave Jachimiak had an idea to make it easier for people to find exactly what they wanted.  Jachimiak designed a website that allows you to organize your Netflix options by year, genre, number of reviews, and the show’s Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer rating.

The website, A Better Queue, has been around for a while but has only recently gained popularity thanks to websites such as Reddit.  Users can cruise Netflix’s list, compare their choices with ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, and try to set up “a better queue.”

Read more here.

 
15
Jul

The Human Side of Netflix’s Matching Algorithm

Leave a Comment  /  Posted in Algorithm, Blog Post

TV Remote ControlI have written a lot about Netflix’s matching algorithm, dubbed “Cinematch” by the founding team. I did not know the company still uses humans to tag and rate aspects of movies and TV shows. It’s kind of amazing that they have figured out how to make human-generated ratings consistent enough to incorporate into the movie matching system. The original algorithm groups viewers into “neighborhoods” to share movies among people of similar tastes. I would definitely love to have this job!

http://time.com/2970271/job-netflix-professional-binge-watcher/

 
08
Nov

If Hastings is the Web’s Louis B Mayer, does that make Ted Sarandos its Cecil B DeMille?

Leave a Comment  /  Posted in Blog Post

I get asked a lot lately whether I think Netflix is going to become a major player in creating original series – the underlying question, of course, is whether CEO Reed Hastings and content chief Ted Sarandos are gunning for the Hollywood studios’ breadbaskets – their production business.

Ted Sarandos' profile is rising, along with Netflix's, in Hollywood.

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos’ profile rises in Hollywood, as the company takes on a new role.

This speculation seems perfectly natural, especially after an impressive and historic showing at the Emmy Awards of Netflix’s new shows. Nearly every Netflix-made series — House of Cards, Arrested Development and Hemlock Grove – was nominated and the one that wasn’t recognized by the Emmys – Orange Is the New Black – is dominating both water cooler and industry talk and Netflix streams.

Sure, Netflix could give the studios a run for their money. Hastings and Sarandos are already doing that using the same approach that gave them unrivaled hegemony over online rental and streaming – using an enormous amount of predictive data gathered from closely studying consumers for 16 years and delivering what people actually watch – not what the studio system bell jar thinks Flyover Land consumers will like.

And yes, Netflix will continue to be very successful – but making content is not their core mission, or their core competency really. Attracting and retaining subscribers is. Right now, Netflix is using content creation as a strong magnet to achieve that core mission, but it is extremely risky.

So my thought is that if Hastings and Sarandos can hive off that risk on somebody else – like the people whose job it is (ahem, studios) – and get a good profit-sharing deal for providing data and distribution (as well as their famously hands-off, artist-centric attitude toward production) — everybody wins.

 

 
21
Aug

To Everything (Beer, Dancing and Content Windows) There is a Season – but Content is Eternal

Leave a Comment  /  Posted in Blog Post

I was at a honky-tonk in South Texas this weekend, dancing and socializing, as I do most weekends with my boyfriend Joe, and I had a conversation with a fellow patron that convinced me that consumers have mentally jettisoned appointment TV – like, permanently. And content owners need to know that this sentiment has reached deeply and irrevocably into “Flyover Land” and take steps to not piss off the heartland further.

Joe was talking with a couple of guys at the bar while I chatted with some friends at a table. When I went to find him, I learned that Joe had told one of the guys — a sturdy-looking dude in his 30s wearing a camouflage gimme cap with his jeans, boots and pearl-snap shirt – that I wrote a book about Netflix. The guy immediately launched into a well-considered complaint about Netflix’s library – mainly that once a title disappears from the streaming service it’s a real bitch to try to find it somewhere else.

The names of several online streaming services came up as did Redbox and a couple of pirate sites, but not once did he or I mention network or cable TV or their OnDemand services, or god forbid, DVDs.

It was just too loud in the bar – and I had beers to drink and dances to dance — to explain that distributors like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and even Redbox are just the messengers of an outdated content “windowing” system that determines where and when every movie and TV program can appear for a decade post-release. But I agreed with him that the hop scotching across platforms that the “Twilight” movies or “Scooby Doo” reruns do as a result of these agreements is ridiculous.

So get it together, content owners – the golden age of television and movies, as you knew it, is long over. It’s time to abolish content windows and do the right thing – establish a Library of Congress-style repository for content that gives consumers what we want, when and where we want it – even if we have to pay more or a la carte for the good stuff. Because when it’s time to dance, you gotta dance, not track down that missing season of “Borgia.”

 
15
Oct

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” —Mark Twain

Leave a Comment  /  Posted in Blog Post, Christina Kish, Marc Randolph, Te Smith

Memory is an interesting and crucial factor when you’re writing a book about events that moved quickly and were not well documented contemporaneously—a situation that commonly occurs at Silicon Valley startups. The conditions—long working hours, a blistering pace and less formal communication than at an established or public company—lend themselves to a bit of haziness when trying to pinpoint, more than a decade later, how a particular decision was arrived at, who made it and what the actual details were.

In documenting Netflix’s pre- and immediate post-launch era, I relied on the accounts of the eight founding team members to get a clear picture of what actually happened. I interviewed them separately—most had not spoken to each other in years—and fact checked with each the narrative I came up with based on their information. I also gave Netflix’s management access to the manuscript to fact check and comment on it.

Thankfully, the memories of my interviewees were pretty consistent about big picture issues—how they derived the business model, the thinking behind the back-end processes and consumer interface, the major events leading up to and following the launch and how the culture changed as the company grew.

Like most startups, Netflix had very little hierarchy in the early days—everyone put in their two cents about most decisions, partly because they were working together in one room and could overhear every conversation. Because there was not a lot of formal documentation in the form of emails, reports, etc, of Netflix’s first couple of years, I had—in some cases—to find common ground on details in which accounts were close but not identical and to decide who had the best recall and access to the most accurate information.

For example, the founding team members independently told me about a meeting that occurred in 1998 between Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Netflix founders Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings at which Bezos offered to buy Netflix.

What was remarkable and wonderful about this process was seeing both the overlap and distinct impressions of each team member of similar events—it gave such richness to the story. So take a look at these transcripts from Randolph, Christina Kish and Te Smith about their recollection of the moment they could have lost their startup to Amazon.

Christina Kish Interview with Gina Keating

GINA
Oh-h-h. Okay. So basically you were sort of diverted from the rental, from refining the re-, rental model because Reed felt that you had to stave off this challenge from purchasers? Okay.

CHRISTINA
Right. Right. So then, that’s why ninety-nine basically killed me off. [LAUGH] Um, so what happened this is Eric, you know, working on recommend-, working on, on cue, working on recommendations. Mark and I, you know, working these three different models and then on top of it, Reed coming in and saying we have, you know, we have to sell. And so he went and made a deal with Amazon that we would do a click through to Amazon so if they didn’t wanna rent it, they would buy it from them.

GINA
Okay. So he thought he was gonna stave off Amazon by doing this. By becoming, because he tried this a couple other ways too. Like, okay we’re gonna go to Blockbuster and sell it to, and become the white box for Blockbuster to do their online service. And then he tried it again with Amazon, so this is the, and I see what’s going on here. Okay.

CHRISTINA
Yeah.

GINA
Okay.

CHRISTINA
So, so he made this deal with Amazon that um, there would be two buttons. Yeah.  This is what finally did me in. Um, yeah, there’d be two buttons. And so you know, they had their choice and what we would receive income from Amazon based on how much would click through.

Marc Randolph Interview with Gina Keating

GINA
So what about Amazon?

MARC
Amazon was way earlier. Yeah, ’98 maybe early ’99. It was the same thing, we got on their radar—they were going to enter video so they were interested in whether they could leverage us to jumpstart themselves into video. Because they were going to buy us to start their video wing and we flew up and they were still in the old book depository—in some weird warehouse building—all sawhorses and doors and this little room and Jeff ran the meeting. He was there. And it was really cute—I really remember it because I was describing our first day and I go, I’m kind of embarrassed, it was only 100 orders that first day. And he said, don’t, I remember it so clearly. We used to have a bell that rang, Jeff was telling me this. He goes, every time a book got ordered a bell rang and we’d all get all excited. It was so cute and he was much sweeter and he was saying yeah we think we can buy you—it would only be $6-8 million something like that and he was interested in the people and we went back and we were going well do we fold it now—that’s not a bad return but then we said, nah! The problem with all these people, whether Amazon or Blockbuster or Wal-Mart, is that it looks so easy. The idea is extremely simple. Doing it for were it costs less than someone is willing to pay for it is extremely hard and no one realizes that. They, we were a software company, not a video rental company, not a retailer. We were a software company and everything went into how to optimize it—that’s extremely hard.

Te Smith Interview with Gina Keating

GINA
By the end of that first year you had a million dollar run rate company. So that was pretty amazing.

TE
Yeah, we were pretty proud of that.

GINA
At that time I think probably you were in talks with Amazon.

TE
There were talks, early, early on. I remember Mark coming and saying, because he was out all one day and we didn’t know where he went. And he came back and said, I think they’re on a private plane, and Pete’s flying commercial. And we were all, we hadn’t even launched yet. I don’t even think we had launched because, or we had barely launched. Because we were all like, but we just did it. They can’t buy it. I think Reed decided that he didn’t want to sell it yet, which was the right decision for sure. There’s a lot more potential there.

TE
But I’ll never forget that night.