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Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Find Me A Movie!

26 Oct, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

It seems everyone is always looking for the perfect match. When they can't find it in the physical world they go online, which accounts for the success of services as diverse as match.com, jdate.com and even dogster.com.

Those are social networks, but the phenomenon works for e-commerce as well. You need look no further than Netflix, which has a recommendation engine that suggests similar films to customers based on the tastes of others who have rented what they are renting. Amazon.com does the same thing with books, CDs and video — in fact with all sorts of products from shoes to home theater systems. Blockbuster, which uses the All Movies Guide database for its online service, has a recommendation engine, but hasn't had much time to build up loyalty yet.

Now Muze, which sells and rents entertainment title databases, has created an off-the-shelf recommendation engine for video titles called Similar Cinema. The service, which Muze will offer to businesses that already use its database as well as to companies that have their own databases and just need recommendation software, picks similar movies to what the customer has searched for and/or bought.

That's a powerful tool for any business that can use it, because it gives your least popular titles as much of a chance to get seen as the most popular titles. From a shopping standpoint, it levels the playing field for indie films that might otherwise never get mentioned in the same sentence, or even on the same page, with big-budget studio titles. So, for example, someone who rented MGM's “BarberShop” titles would presumably get recommendations for UrbanWorks' Hair Show or Maverick's Barber Shops Uncut.

Muze promises that Similar Cinema will reference 22,000 titles when it launches, which could put any service nearly on a par with Netflix, at least in terms of the number of titles the engine can compare. The business will have to solve the problem of stocking that many titles, which few do.

It might also be useful as a buying tool for small dealers who have to choose carefully what to stock in their stores. They may not have their own Web sites, but they can make use of someone else's to adjust purchases and stock. Using the example above, if the MGM titles turn well for an indie rentailer, it seems as though it would be well worth looking into stocking the recommended indie producer titles.

I've heard analysts and indies say that physical video stores will never disappear entirely because people like the social aspect of going to the video store, because you lose the human element online. But so far, Netflix has done pretty well creating a community that creates loyalty (what Web designers call “stickiness”). So has eBay. Can the challengers? We'll see. An online community is different from a physical one, but it is a community and, as the dating services prove, people who can't find what they want in the physical world will look for it elsewhere.

Like the social networks, I'm sure not every match is a success. But people do keep going back and referring their friends, and that's what business success is all about, isn't it?

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