TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: What Netflix Could Teach Hollywood

What Netflix Could Teach Hollywood

Monty Solomon (
Wed, 14 Jun 2006 22:53:06 -0400

David Leonhardt
The New York Times
June 7, 2006


BETWEEN "The Godfather" and "The Godfather: Part II," Francis Ford
Coppola made a movie called "The Conversation." It stars Gene Hackman
as a paranoid wiretapper in Watergate-era San Francisco, and the cast
includes Robert Duvall, a young Harrison Ford, the woman who played
Shirley in "Laverne & Shirley" and the guy who played Fredo Corleone
in "The Godfather."

The movie was nominated for best picture in 1975, and Mr. Coppola has
actually called it the finest film he has ever made. After watching it
this week, I wouldn't go that far, but it is certainly better than
nearly anything at the multiplex right now.

Yet "The Conversation" was on its way to the movie graveyard just a
few years ago. Since video stores have room for only a few thousands
titles, some didn't carry it, and it was slowly being buried under the
ever growing pile of newer films at other stores. It would have been
easy a decade ago to imagine a time when few people would ever watch
"The Conversation" again.

Then came Netflix. The Internet company with the red envelopes stocks
just about all of the 60,000 movies, television shows and how-to
videos that are available on DVD (and that aren't pornography). Just
as important, for the sake of "The Conversation," Netflix lets users
rate movies on a one- to five-star scale and make online
recommendations to their friends.

The company's servers also sift through the one billion ratings in its
system to tell you which movies that you might like, based on which
ones you have already liked.

The result is a vast movie meritocracy that gives a film a second or
third life simply because -- get this -- it's good. Last year, "The
Conversation" (average rating: four stars) was the 13th-most-watched
movie from the early 1970's on Netflix.

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