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Netflix Pays Out $1 Million in Movie Recommendation Challenge

21 Sep, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

Nearly three years after Netflix challenged statisticians and engineers to improve on the company’s ability to predict subscribers’ movie tastes, the DVD rental service has paid out the $1 million prize it promised.

More than 40,000 teams from 186 countries took on the challenge, which Netflix leveled in October 2006, but it was seven individuals from four different countries from three previously competing teams that banded together to claim the prize.

The team was able to successfully improve by 10% the predictions of Netflix members’ movie tastes, something the company itself had been unable to do, using 100 million anonymous movie ratings made available by the company.

“We had a bona fide race right to the very end,” said co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings. “Teams that had previously battled it out independently joined forces to surpass the 10% barrier.”

The winning team is required to publish its results so that other businesses can benefit from the work.

“Accurately predicting the movies Netflix members will love is a key component of our service,” said Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt. “This extreme level of personalization is like entering a video store with 100,000 titles and having those that are most interesting to you fly off the shelves and line up in front of you. We take the guess work out of renting by presenting the movies and TV episodes we believe each Netflix member will most enjoy”

After awarding the prize Sept. 21, Netflix announced a second $1 million challenge, this one geared toward predicting movie recommendations for Netflix members who don’t often rate movies.

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