After three years, a team of programmers have finally laid claim to the $1 million "Netflix Prize" - a competition that invited teams to test their programming mettle and improve upon the online movie rental service's movie recommendation algorithm by 10 percent.
While progress had been slow going, the 10 percent mark was finally broken last month after several top teams joined forces to form BellKor's Pragmatic Chaos. With a score of 10.08 percent, it looked like BellKor was ready to cash in on the reward, however their announcement put into effect a 30 day last call period for other teams to submit their work.
A team called The Ensemble did just that, turning in an algorithm that scored 10.09 percent, giving the team the lead over BellKor. BellKor would manage to tie the score with under 30 minutes left in the competition, but 4 minutes before close, The Ensemble turned in the top submission of 10.10 percent, stealing a victory in what turned out to be a nail-biting race.
Netflix is expected to formally announce the winner once it confirms the data.
If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em, and most would agree that Netflix has grown too large (and too strategic) to beat. So who wants to buy them? If you believe the latest rumor, Amazon wants to buy the online DVD rental service, news of which has sent Netflix stock soaring to the highest it's been in 11 weeks.
"There's heavy call buying and the stock is up on renewed takeover talk, with Amazon being mentioned specifically," said Fred Ruffy, the senior options strategist at WhatsTrading.com. "It's pretty typical of speculative buying."
While Netflix and Amazon both compete in the Internet video business, not everyone is convinced a takeover makes much sense. Michael Pachter, an analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, points out that Amazon has distribution centers all across the U.S., meaning the company would have to collect sales tax in those states. Should that happen, subscribers would likely end up footing the bill.
As expected, both Amazon and Netflix said they don't comment on rumors or speculation.
Pretty soon, even your toaster will come with Netflix streaming built in. In the meantime, Netflix's newest target is Sony's line of online-enabled Bravia LCD televisions.
Enabled via a software update expected to launch this fall, those with compatible Bravia sets will gain access to the same growing catalog of movies and television shows that are available on an also growing list of Netflix-streaming devices, including the Xbox 360 console, Roku player, some TiVo sets, and a few Samsung and LG Blu-ray players.
Supported Sony TV sets so far include the XBR9 series, Z5100 series, and the W5100 series, while other Sony sets can add support via a $200 Bravia Internet Video Link. In addition to Netflix streaming, Bravia Internet Video-enabled devices also support content from Amazon's Video-On-Demand, YouTube, CBS, and others.
Microsoft continues its quest to convince people to watch TV on their PCs with today’s announcement that Netflix subscribers can finally stream more than 12,000 movies and TV episodes through Windows Media Center. But there’s a catch; two, actually.
As Blu-ray players and media continues to go down, the cost of adding Blu-ray to your Netflix subscription is going up. Again. Back in October of last year, Netflix implemented a $1 surcharge to customers who wanted to add access to Blu-ray rentals to their monthly subscription plan, saying the price hike was to cover the "significant cost difference" between Blu-ray and standard DVDs. Netflix called it a "pretty modest" surcharge at the time, but now you could be paying up to $9 extra per month to add Blu-ray to your plan.
"We’re committed to providing a high quality Blu-ray experience for our members who choose to add Blu-ray access, and in order to do that we need to adjust Blu-ray pricing. As a result, the monthly charge for Blu-ray access is increasing for most plans and will now vary by plan," wrote Jessie Teitz, Netflix's VP of marketing, in a blog post.
Hit the jump to see how the new pricing breaks down.
In an attempt to better compete with streaming giant Netflix, Blockbuster this week announced a new deal to begin transmitting movies to TiVo users.
"This relationship with TiVo is step one in getting into the places that consumers care about," says Kevin Lewis, Blockbuster's senior VP for digital.
As part of the deal, Blockbuster will start selling TiVo DVRs in its retail stores later this year. However, neither company was willing to divulge how many of Blockbuster's nearly 4,000 stores will participate. Nor is it known what movies will be available, as "The studios and we are trying to figure it out," Lewis added.
Due to begin in the second half of 2009, Blockbuster's OnDemand will feature content to both buy and rent, and will be integrated into TiVo Series2, Series3, TiVo HD, and TiVo HD XL DVRs, Blockbusters says.
Barring any changes, TiVo owners with Blockbuster accounts will pay up to $4 to rent a movie and then have 30 days to begin watching. Subscribers will then be given a 24-hour window. Alternately, movies will be available for sale at up to $20 a pop, but DRM will prevent subscribers from copying purchased content over to DVD.
Some users of Netflix’s streaming service have groused about dwindling performance in recent times. The dip in performance has not only nettled users but also engendered speculation as to its cause. The most plausible conjecture is that video streams are being deliberately throttled by Netflix.
“Also, routing to different ISPs in the same region may be quite different, thus performance may also be quite different, even for neighbors, if they are connected to different ISPs. Moreover, congesting points can rise and fall with ISP configuration changes and other conditions,” Hunt wrote.
It looks like everyone’s favorite online DVD rental service has seen 6 percent growth in just one month, and they’re now boasting over 10 million subscribers.
While many of these subscribers remain the average, web-queue using type, a significant portion of the newcomers are thanks to Xbox Live. To date, over one million people have downloaded the Xbox Live client, allowing the online streaming service to take huge prescient, and bringing in a mighty profit.
This number is expected to grow from here to 10.1-10.3 million subscribers by the end of Q1 of this year, and all the way up to 10.6-11.3 million by the end of this fiscal year.
Netflix continues to enjoy immense popularity as a subscription-based movie rental and streaming video service, a business model which Netflix CEO Reed Hastings previously said would stay the same going forward.
"We don't plan to enter the pay-per-view segment, where Apple, Amazon, Sony, and others focus, or the ad-supported segment, where Hulu, YouTube, and other compete," Hastings said in July 2008.
Maybe success has gotten to Netflix's head. Since Hastings' statement, Netflix has made major gains to its streaming service, which is now found on Microsoft's Xbox 360 console, offered through a standalone Roku player, integrated into select Blu-ray players, and even is available on some TiVo units. More homes than ever now have easy access to Netflix's streaming catalog, and a new customer survey seems to suggest that Hastings and company might be reconsidering Netflix's position as a subscription-only business. One of the questions being asked is whether customers would be willing to pay an additional $10 per month to stream "HBO original series and movies."
It's unclear how quickly Netflix would make new episodes of, say, Big Love available for viewing after first appearing on HBO, or whether new episodes would be available at the same time. But what is clear is that Netflix has become too large to ignore other business models. Even if survey respondents shoot down the idea of a $10/month HBO add-on, one has to wonder how long it will be before additional services find their way onto Netflix.
Would you pay a premium for HBO content through your Netflix account? Hit the jump and sound off.
Let's hope there's no insidious plot to take over the world brewing behind the scenes of Netflix, because if there is, we're all screwed. Netflix's streaming service is already being streamed to everything from Tivo boxes to the Xbox 360 console, and starting this spring, LG will integrate Netflix streaming capability into some of its plasma and LCD HDTVs.
The move has the potential to significantly boost Netflix's subscriber base, as consumers in the market for a new television would no longer need to add a separate set-top box, be it a Roku player or one of the compatible Blu-ray players, to take advantage of the more than 12,000 streaming movies and TV shows. It also puts the pressure on the competition to catch up if they have any hopes of contending in the living room.
No word yet on price or availability, though we imagine more information will be made available this week at CES.