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Analysis of Netflix's DVD Allocation System 521

dvd_rent_test writes "Netflix uses the number of movies you have previously rented to determine your priority in getting movies. The more movies you rented during your last billing cycle, the less chance you have of receiving a movie versus an individual who has rented fewer movies. This is why new users have great success getting their movies and older or heavy users have a difficult time getting some movies."
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Analysis of Netflix's DVD Allocation System

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Cancel one account, sign up for a new one.
  • by xchino ( 591175 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:20AM (#5789792)
    I mean, after all, waiting for movies has got to be increasing piracy ratings. It should only be fair that %93 of Netflix's profits go back into the MPAA to make up for lost sales caused by people waiting on movies.

  • So I wondered.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coed ( 8203 ) <> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:21AM (#5789797)
    I was wondering about this. I have been a member for almost two years, and I am very efficient about sending the movies back quickly (thus maximizing the total number of movies I can see.) I have been wondering for a long time why I never seem to get any of the "Short Wait" movies, much less the "Long Wait" ones. Well anyway, I'm thinking about cancelling Netflix anyway. The post office has lost (or stolen) a number of movies I've sent back anyway. I'll probably just get a PVR instead.
    • Re:So I wondered.. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by angle_slam ( 623817 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:43AM (#5790054)
      The post office has lost (or stolen) a number of movies I've sent back anyway.

      What does Netflix do when the USPS loses a DVD? I know that they lost one of mine and I used the Netflix page to mark it as missing, with no effect on my account. But it also says that if you have an abnormal amount of lost DVDs, they will notice. Did they do anything to you?

    • Re:So I wondered.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zgwortz962 ( 641208 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:54AM (#5790155)
      Actually, I seriously doubt the Post Office has actually lost or stolen these movies. I've been using Netflix for a year and a half now, and have NEVER had a movie lost on it's way to me, but have had 5 lost on the way back, including two that were mailed back on the same day. If it were the Post Office losing these, I'd suspect losses in both directions. It's my suspicion that most, if not all of the "lost" movies are more likely lost at Netflix itself, either not processed correctly when received, or whole bags of incoming that get messed up in some fashion. IMHO.
      • Re:So I wondered.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by TheGax ( 572856 ) <> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:12PM (#5791054) Homepage
        There was some sort of post office "sting" if you will going on in 2001. At least here in Florida. It seems that postal workers were indeed stealing Netflix movies. But this has since been resolved from what Neflix's postal liason told me in an email. The case was also before a Federal grand jury at the time (November 2001).

        As for how easy is it to tell an "inbound" from an "outbound" Netflix movie; very easy. Inbound to the subscriber are almost entirely red on the outside and are addressed to the subscriber. Outbound movies going back to Netflix have their address on them and are white on one side.

        And since they have opened new service centers (relevant to me, first in Georgia and then in Ft. Lauderdale) the shipping times have been great.

      • Re:So I wondered.. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by smoondog ( 85133 )
        Actually, I got a NetFlix DVD delivered to me once, and I'm not a member. (It was intended for someone who lived a surpisingly far distance away.) Anyways, since I wasn't familiar with NetFlix (at the time), I didn't think was important (I thought it was an AOL like mailing) so it sat on my shelf for a while. Honestly, I don't remember if we ever got to the correct place, in hind sight we probably should have seen what movie it was....

      • Of course if the USPS were losing the movies one could expect losses in both directions. I asked a one-time ex-deputy Director of the FBI about such shenanigans (ooh, my mighty network) and he said that US Postal inspectors would LOVE to hear about such "losses" and to investigate such a matter.

        Being a good and right consumer, I decided it wasn't worth the hassle and settled with cancelling my subscription. I was paranoid/concerned that Netflix was purposely "losing" (read "not processing") my returned DV

        • I have a friend who works in loss/fraud prevention who would love to hear your story. If you let them know that you're losing quite a number of your movies, there will be investigation.

          He has some great stories about DVD loss, and fraud. My favorite was the hotel that had three or four netflix accounts so they could 'rent' movies to their customers (which, if you've read the FBI warning at the beginning of any DVD lately, you'd know that's not allowed). There are also stories of postal workers stealing the

    • I have been a member since August 2002. In that time, I have received three empty envelopes -- no sleeve or DVD. In each case, it was easy enough to figure out what movie it should have been. The last two were received unsealed at my local (podunk sized) post office. The postmaster says Netflix is well known among postmasters for sending out unsealed enveloped, the sleeves and DVDs fall out in bins, are collected, and periodically sent back to Netflix.

      I don't believe the post office is stealing these.
  • I thought it was just a coincidence that I (with a newer account, not many rentals) got the same movies my mother(very old account, lots and lots of rentals) couldn't get. Kinda stinks really... good thing im in the dorms at college so I get to change my address/CC/account every 6 months :)
  • interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Transient0 ( 175617 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:22AM (#5789808) Homepage
    It's a paid service, you would think that they would want to cater to their most active customers to keep from losing them. On the other hand, you might think that since you pay a flat fee that those who didn't make good use of their account in previous months but paid the full fee anyway deserve a little extra priority.

    Hmmm... I'm not sure that anyone really has a reason to complain to loudly about this. No-one is being ripped off. Still, I'm not sure I understand their logic in implementing this way. In the end I'm not sure it is in their interest to give preference to either group: the frequent users or those who pay and don't play.
    • It's a paid service, you would think that they would want to cater to their most active customers to keep from losing them.

      No, apparently they lose money on their most active customers. For instance, I think if you get the "3 out at a time" subscription, I've seen it stated that if you get more than 5 movies in a month, they lose money on you.

      Also, if you have a "Long Wait" movie at the top of your queue, you can expect that a new movie doesn't go out to you as quickly as if you have a "Now" movie in t

    • Re:interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SpeedBump0619 ( 324581 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:35AM (#5789950)
      I'm not sure it is in their interest to give preference to either group

      Think again. As long as people don't really notice then they can keep a higher subscription rate with this system.

      The active people, those who like and use the system often, are less likely to give it up over longer wait times. Those people probably have more movies they want to watch, so they can pick those with the lower wait times.

      The inactive folks, those who rarely use the system, must be provided low wait times in order to keep them subscribed. The Surest way to make them leave is to tell them they have a long wait for the one thing they wanted.

      This system seems designed to maintain the highest subscription rate, which is exactly what I would expect.

  • It does seem fair as there are only a certain number of physical DVDs to send around. That said, they should buy more of popular titles to keep the waits to a minimum for long time, and presumably good, customers.
  • by ArmorFiend ( 151674 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:23AM (#5789818) Homepage Journal
    DVD burners are cheap now. They ought to just license the ability to burn-on-demand from the MPAA. That way they never run out of Titanic or whatever. Perhaps the MPAA would need to fund "UN inspections" to ensure that the excess DVDs are destroyed.

    I notice blockbuster charges ~$3.90 for all DVDs now, "because the cost of replacement for damaged DVDs is so much higher than VHS". Sha, right, why blockbuster's don't all have DVD burners in the back room is purely a testament to bad/non-existant negotiations between Blockbuster and the movie companies.
    • by exhilaration ( 587191 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:33AM (#5789927)
      You can't copy double-layered commercial DVD's. They can only be manufactured.

      The DVD burners currently available can't copy a full-length movie. You have to rip the original movie, and increase the compression (slightly lower the quality) to fit it onto a single disc. You can also slice the movie in half, and use two discs.

    • That's the same rationale the record companies have for charging more for CDs, even though they cost far less to make than cassettes. Unfortunately for Blockbuster, the lie is a bit more visible as new DVDs already sell for LESS or the same than VHS copies of the same movies- and this is with bonus materials! They're raising their prices because they've managed to displace the little guys in most areas and their profits are lower because of the recession. Yes, they're that stupid.
    • Classic business flaw:

      "If we increase service, we'll increase demand at least proportionally..."

      However, this assertion is typically just flat wrong. Any business person worth their salt whose goal is to maximize profit will use the route that is most likely to give them the highest margin. If service dropped below a threshold, yes - people wouldn't use the service anymore. However, as long as the service is "good enough" people will continue to use it.

      In other words, if they increased service, they w
    • by trix_e ( 202696 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:46AM (#5790087)
      yeah, I'm sure the MPAA thinks this is a *fantastic* idea.

      Provide easy access to commercial-grade dupe equipment to thousands of teens around the US making minimum wage working in a store full of source material.

      Hmmmm... I wonder why they haven't done this yet?
    • Actually, Netflix does now have some sort of deal with the studios that allows them to manufacture their own discs. Sort of like how the BMG Music Club does it for audio CDs, I suspect.

      Check it out: Look carefully at the Netflix discs you get in the mail from now on. Every now and again, you'll get one that has just the title of the film printed in a weird font (kind of Art Deco) and no graphics. Actually, the text isn't printed ... the entire surface of the disc is printed a sort of purplish grey color, a
  • by martums ( 306333 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:25AM (#5789831)
    I had to stop using NetFlix a couple months ago because my USPS carrier wouldn't consistently put them in my apartment's mailbox (leaving them outside risking theft--those big red & white envelopes just scream FREE DVD!).

    When I went to kill my membership, they offered me the same membership for less money, what was 3 DVD's for $20 a month, was now two or three bucks less. And the savings could be had on all there other plans, if agreed to use their services for a year or so.

    Seems like they've got some pretty "creative" ways of handling their customers. I'm content buying DVDs off of eBay.

    Anybody else think they're a little "funny"?
    • by vondo ( 303621 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:42AM (#5790040)
      Seems like they've got some pretty "creative" ways of handling their customers. I'm content buying DVDs off of eBay.

      Anybody else think they're a little "funny"?

      This is standard operating procedure for almost any subscription service. Newspapers, magazines, cable companies, mobile phone companies, all do this.

      It all comes down to the cost of acquiring a new customer vs. keeping an old one. But, of course, it would be suicide to offer such a discount to everyone without their asking.

  • by Snowspinner ( 627098 ) <philsand.ufl@edu> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:25AM (#5789837) Homepage
    In the screenshot above Netscape was used to display account "A" while Internet Explorer was used to simultaneously show account "B".

    And, of course, the account B was the new one that was having an easier rental time. So it must be that Netflix gives better rental times to people who use Internet Explorer! Microsoft owns everything!

  • This may be the case, but as a long time (although currently ex-)customer, I must say that NetFlix was satisfactory in getting movies to me. I remember a couple of waits for the most popular movies, but never over a couple of days. I subscibed at the 3-movies at a time level and was able to pretty much watch a movie every other or every third night when I wanted to (ordering new releases).
  • Well done... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:25AM (#5789842) Homepage Journal
    All in all, a nice job of reverse engineering Netflix's allocation scheme. A useful followup would be to contact Netflix and get their take on this.

    Allocation strategies always involve prioritizing one type of customer over another - in Netflix's case, this current strategy would seem to make sense while they are trying to grow the business and rake in new customers. Assuming that there aren't significant supply chain issues that are getting in the way of prompt availability for all customers, like a larger number of people than expected not returning DVD's in a timely fashion, Netflix will need to revisit this at some point before they screw their loyal customers one too many times.

    • Netflix's take on this... would probably be to sue him. Violation of trade secret... possibly even DMCA (even though I have no idea how they'd try...) violations.

      This sort of thing is probably at the heart of their entire business model, information I doubt they want the masses to have. If so, I'd be very afraid of their reactions, given the current corporation vs. consumer attitudes out there today.
      • Re:trade secret (Score:3, Informative)

        You can't sue somebody for giving away trade secrets if those secrets were deduced using reverse engineering. There is no IP protection for trade secrets unless the secret is stolen, or given out in violation of a NDA (which is equivalent to stealing it).

        Besides the fact that despite the analysis he could still be WRONG. It is only conjecture based on the set of evidence that's been compiled.
  • by msblack ( 191749 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:26AM (#5789845)
    In the screenshot above Netscape was used to display account "A" while Internet Explorer was used to simultaneously show account "B".

    This is another example of the Microsoft's strategy for world domination. NetFlix gives preference to customers using IE over Netscape/Mozilla.

  • by j0hnfr0g ( 652153 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:26AM (#5789850)
    Could this result in people continuously generating new accounts? This would be a potential nightmare for Netflix.

    (insert sig here)
  • I remember (Score:5, Informative)

    by SomeOtherGuy ( 179082 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:27AM (#5789856) Journal
    I was one of the "first 1000" to sign up with Netflix. If I remember right they had the "Lifetime membership for $9.99 a month" type thing going on. I loved the service -- until they started charging my credit card "$14.95" a month because they were a little optimistic during the whole:

    1. Send out unlimited DVD's for 10 bucks a month and let the user keep 4 at any time -- for any length of time (pick up all shipping costs).
    2. ???
    3. Profit

    I was burned that the price kept going up -- and I don't take nicely to automated withdrawls from my accounts going up anytime the source decides to reinvent their business logic. I should either have to sign up again at the higher price, or sign a document authorizing the higher price.
    • Re:I remember (Score:5, Interesting)

      by deblau ( 68023 ) <> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @11:45AM (#5790744) Journal
      I was burned that the price kept going up -- and I don't take nicely to automated withdrawls from my accounts going up anytime the source decides to reinvent their business logic. I should either have to sign up again at the higher price, or sign a document authorizing the higher price.

      Just call up your credit card company and ask for a chargeback. Tell them you didn't authorize that amount of debit. Merchants hate that. It costs them money, and if it happens enough they can get investigated for fraud. If more people did it, Netflix would think twice before trying crap like that again.

  • by SplendidIsolatn ( 468434 ) <> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:27AM (#5789862)
    Look, there are only a certain amount of DVDs to go around. In the article, it states that the priority is based solely on the LAST billing cycle. So, if you have a bad month getting the movies you want, you'll have a good month the next time, then bad, then good.

    It's not a perfect system, but given limited resources, it's the fairest thing they can do and still keep prices reasonble.
    • HTF is this fair.... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gregm ( 61553 )
      I mean.... you crap all over your good, old established customers in order to attract new ones... seems to me the old customers should get the preferential treatment and the new ones should get to sit and spin for awhile. Whatever happened to loyalty?
      • by SplendidIsolatn ( 468434 ) <> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @11:20AM (#5790439)
        RTFA -- they don't crap over old, established customers -- they crap over people who had a high amount of rentals in the last month. It doesn't matter if you've been with them 2 months or 12 months. So yes, by their rule, your first month will have a quick turnaround in rental time, but after that, it is based on the last month.

        What would you rather them do--make all new people wait the longest? Great business plan.

        I don't have a problem with a company showing customer's loyalty, but you can't expect them to have a DVDfairy hanging out in their office crapping out DVDs on demand--there's a limited number, and this looks like the most reasonable way of distributing them fairly. You get a good month, then you get a not-so good month.
    • So, if you have a bad month getting the movies you want, you'll have a good month the next time, then bad, then good.

      Not so. I will still get (and watch) the same number of movies in a bad month, but the movies sent to me will be those lower down in my queue.

      So a bad month gives me just as many movies, but I don't get the benefit of either seeing the movies I really want or getting a higher priority the next month.

      This would only be fair if I were to cut back on the number of rentals when they reduce m
  • Similar Experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeCotellese ( 126966 ) <joe.cotellese@net> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:27AM (#5789863) Homepage
    I had a similar experience with Netflix. A bunch of current releases were listed as long wait or very long wait. I complained to Netflix and amazingly that day the status changed from long wait to short or available now. Coincidence? I thought so originally but this report sort of sheds new light on things.
  • This seems normal.. Companies often need that initial capital so they will promise a lot upfront, give you your movies for awhile then make you wait once they have you "hooked".

    And hopefully you won't notice this since your first couple weeks of subscription, you had excellent response times.
  • Business Models. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:31AM (#5789907) Homepage
    There are two ways to look at this buiseness model:

    1) They are "punishing" the people that make the most use of their service, rewarding those that make the least use. Considering they charge the same amount of money either way, it sounds like a good idea to me.

    2) They are catering to two entirely different clientel: Set A) that watch a ton of movies, Set B) That watch only a few movies. Set A pays the same as set B but gets more quantity at the cost of less quality.

    Either way, it sounds like a GOOD, FAIR, business plan to me.

    • Re:Business Models. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Atomizer ( 25193 )
      It seems more fair to me to just have it be first come first serve. If you click the link first, you get in line for the movie first. If you reorder your list, you just stepped out of line, no cuts.
    • I did some further analysis on the author's data, and found that he made a couple of assumptions which I don't think are true.

      I made a graph of the average availability score vs. the $/rental for each period, and got a nice,clean inversely proportional graph. That is, the higher you pay per rental (e.g. his mom was paying $10/movie during one period), the better your availability score. Where some of the data didn't *quite* fit (but was pretty close) was where the author (A) had rented fewer movies on his
  • by Saint Stephen ( 19450 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:31AM (#5789910) Homepage Journal
    I just recently cancelled all my cable movie channels and got two library cards (this town and the next town over). I check one or two DVDs out from the library every other day. Sure, they are crappy old movies, but it sounds like that's the bulk of what you get on Netflix and on most of the cable channels anyway. Your taxes already pay for it. Be an old fogey and use the library! It's civic!
    • Librarys are great. If you live in a reasonably sized city, they probably have hundreds, if not thousands of CDs and DVDs. And, to attract younger people, the libraries where I live have very recent releases and things that are supposed to appeal to "teens."

      However, your quote, "the bulk of what you get on Netflix and on most of the cable channels anyway." is a little off. The reason I picked Netflix is because they have an absolutely humongous selection of DVDs. Much larger than any video store. Certainly

    • by Phroggy ( 441 ) <slashdot3@phr o g> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @11:51AM (#5790841) Homepage
      Hell yes, libraries kick ass.

      I can access the card catalog system for my county-wide library system online (via telnet [] or the web []), peruse their selection at my leisure (including DVDs and videos from every public library in the county, not just the one 2 blocks from my house - and including items that are currently checked out and not sitting on the shelf), and place a hold on it. If it's available, it will probably be delivered to my local library within 2-3 days; if it's something very popular like a new release on DVD it could take a couple months. I can check the status of a hold, and it'll tell me my position in the queue (I'm in 59th place out of 148 current holds for My Big Fat Greek Wedding on DVD, which I requested about a month and a half ago). When an item is ready, I just walk in, hand them my library card, they hand me my movies, and I get to keep them for 3 or 7 days (depending on the policy of the library the item belongs to, which varies somewhat, and how popular the item is - new releases are generally 3 days). If I return it late, the fine is between $0.10 to $0.25 per day (again depending on the library it belongs to), which they're not picky about if I haven't got any change with me.

      The disadvantage of using the library compared to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video is, unless the movie I want is available and sitting on the shelf (not very likely), I can't watch it today. The advantage is that it's free, and the late fees are trivial.

      The only disadvantages of using the library compared to NetFlix that I can think of are, instead of delivering to my mailbox, I have to walk two blocks (or the library will mail it to me for a $2.00 charge if I want), and I can only keep it for 3-7 days before returning it (I can afford the overdue fines, but I don't like to deprive others who are waiting). The advantage, again, is that it's free (aside from fines mentioned above).

      Does your local library kick this much ass? Maybe not, but give it a try, you might be surprised.
  • by mstra ( 38238 ) <matt.stratton@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:32AM (#5789916) Homepage Journal
    ...and older or heavy users have a difficult time getting some movies

    I, for one, thing it is *appalling* that NetFlix would discriminate against the elderly and the fat-assed.


  • Ha hah... I just love this image []...

    The Evil new account is in an IE browser, and the poor abused old account is in a NN window.

  • by Nutcase ( 86887 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:34AM (#5789938) Homepage Journal
    Netflix had a big spread in Wired several months back... the business model of the company is such that they are only profitable on accounts which rent 5 or less movies a month. This jives with the linear availability chart at the end of the linked article. When the account had 5 or less rentals in the previous billing cycle, availability of movies in the current cycle is 0-1. But once you pass 5, it decreases.

    In other words, as long as your account is 5 or less and you are profitable for them, you will get movies quickly. If you are renting more than 5, it seems they slow you down in an effort to limit you to the 5 through delay tactics.. rather than just saying "up to 5"

    Kinda sneaky to pitch unlimited rentals and then use false availability numbers to limit your customers to a preset amount.

    I think I will just stick with the local video store. I can rent 4 or 5 movies there for 20 bucks a month without the waiting time OR lies about availability.
    • by angle_slam ( 623817 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:49AM (#5790110)
      In other words, as long as your account is 5 or less and you are profitable for them, you will get movies quickly. If you are renting more than 5, it seems they slow you down in an effort to limit you to the 5 through delay tactics.. rather than just saying "up to 5"

      They don't really "slow you down," as you are still able to rent other movies. It's just that some movies become less available than others.

      You make it seem like, if it says a movie is a Very Long Wait, you won't get any movie. But, if you keep your rental queue filled (mine has 33 movies; I have been as high as 70. Only 3 are unavailable now), you will always get a movie in your queue, perhaps just not the exact one you wanted.

      To me, it's not that big a deal, because Netflix's biggest advantage over local video stores is selection. If they don't have one particular movie, pick another one.

  • The thing that kills me is that Netflix apparently doesn't take into account the number of movies you can check out at a time (it costs more $/month to get more movies at one time). So as this clever analysis points out, if you pay more to get 5 movies at a time, then you are more likely to never get popular movies.

    It seems that a better algorithm would normalize the number of movies rented in each billing cycle by the number paid to be rented at one time.
  • by TheNumberSix ( 580081 ) <NumberSix@simpli ... EL.com_minusfood> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:35AM (#5789949)
    I think the article is pretty good, however in my own playing around with my rental queue, I am convinced that queue length is somehow a factor.

    When I joined Netflix, I got my shipments in two days from the Santa Ana facility, and I almost always got the top three on my list. Now it seems like they take three days at least. (Get shipping email on Monday, DVD arrives on Thursday.)

    Now that I've been a member for six months or so, the top of my list has aggegated together about six movies that are all "Very Long Wait" and to be quite honest, I've never seen them anything other than that. I don't think I will ever get them.

    FWIW, I do beleive the article is essentially correct and various service levels with Netflix decrease over time.

    It also would not surprise me in the least if they analyze your viewing habits to determine if you are likely to stop using the Netflix service. It would probably be called the Geek Regression.

    And just for kicks, the list of movies I will never see from Netflix: Solaris (Original 1970's version), Trees Lounge, Raging Bull, 24 Disc 1, Sopranos Disc 1. Has anyone gotten these?
    • I've been a member for a rather long time (almost 3 years) but I don't watch movies very promptly (their records show that I've only watched and returned 11 films in the past 3 months). So I guess I fall into "we like thi$ cu$tomer" category.

      I just checked and I have 59 movies in my rental queue, and every single one of them is listed as "Now" availability. Granted, most of them are uncommon foreign and indie films so I'm not in competition with all those folks trying to get the latest "Austin Powers" mo
  • I know this may be slightly off topic but there is a company in the UK which runs a similar service to NetFlix, called [] I;ve used them for about 6 moths and they have been very good, including not giving me any hastle when a dvd they said the had send did not turn up.

    Alos as far as I am aware the dvd queues are the same for all users, so you may wait a bit for new relases but most other stuff comes as soon as it gets to the head of your rental queue.

  • by hey ( 83763 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:35AM (#5789958) Journal
    ... it can hurt your sex life [] !!!
  • I wonder if the size of one's queue affects availability. If you have a great number of movies in your queue, you probably would not care as much if a specific movie was not available versus someone with just a few movies listed in their queue. This may also explain why a new user would have greater access to movies since their queue would not have grown so much.

  • Don't OS schedulers give cycles to processes
    that most need it. They typically keep a "score"
    of the CPU a process has received an reward those
    needing more.
  • by SirChive ( 229195 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:41AM (#5790021)
    I've been a Netflix subscriber for over a year. I'm on the 5 at a time plan because we have four people in my family adding movies to the rental queue.

    For the most part we get everything that we ask for amazingly fast. It's very rare that anything hangs up on the queue with a long wait. Even highly popular and newly released items arrive quickly. And since we are in the Bay Area not far from Netflix central the turnaround time is often just two or three days.

    I'm very happy with Netflix. In a good month we'll easily get 20 or more DVDs for an average rental price of under $1.50 delivered right to our door.
  • by sethaw ( 598206 ) <> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:43AM (#5790056)
    If you want to avoid the waiting lists I've always found that to rent a movie in high demand it helps it you rent it on the day it comes out. You can almost always get the movie no matter what it is if you have a movie returned on the day (or day before) it is officially released. You have to always keep track of whats coming out, and try to manage to get a movie returned on the correct day, but it saves alot of frustration.
  • by hexx ( 108181 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:46AM (#5790088)
    According to this wired article [] (see the end of the 6th paragraph):

    "It's so convenient that the average Netflix customer watches five movies a month. Some subscribers rent twenty or more. (Which is a problem: Netflix loses money on postage for households that rent more than five a month.)"

    So, if this is true (and hopefully Wired has become more trustworth as a "news source" in recent years...), then obviously they want to discourage people from renting more than 5 per month.

    The method above seems like a pretty good way to do it!

  • by EvilStein ( 414640 ) <spam@pbp.nOPENBSDet minus bsd> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:54AM (#5790147)
    .. half the movies my girlfriend picked out have "Very long wait" which means that it's just that much longer that I won't have to suffer through watching "Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood."

    As a prize, I got "I'm gonna git you, sucka!" nice and early. ;)
  • by lal ( 29527 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:59AM (#5790186)

    I was a Netflix subscriber for a few months. My experience matches the study - there was a slow buildup of "long waits" in my queue. Eventually, when all the movies I wanted to see were "long waits", I cancelled.

    In general, I find that I'm getting a lot more aggressive with cancelling subscriptions or services, especially if these services involve new technology. Cancellation is the only message that is received - all others fall on deaf ears. Sprint PCS, for example, has an customer service voice recognition system that will route you to a service agent if you say "I want to cancel". Any other message is handled by an automated, worthless system. I was able to negotiate a much better rate with them by using those four magic words.

  • Full disclosure (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Galvatron ( 115029 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @11:03AM (#5790236)
    I think we all agree that this makes good business sense from NetFlix's perspective. People who rent the least are probably in most danger of cancelling. They make the most profit on low volume accounts. People who only rent really hard to get movies will have a low volume and will therefore see their priority rise.

    However, what's upsetting about this is that it's not made public by NetFlix. They advertise "unlimited rentals," but penalize you for renting a lot. They encourage you to keep a large buffer of movies so that if your first choice isn't avaliable, you'll get a second, third, fourth, or lower choice, but they don't tell you that this will decrease your priority. That second point, in particular, is rather infuriating, because they're telling you to do something that is directly against your best interest if you want that first choice movie at some point!

    If NetFlix can't make money from people who rent 20 movies a month, they need to set an upper limit, or charge a per movie cost. If the business model of a mail order rental place is inherently unsustainable, then they need to admit that, liquidate their company, and cash out. Being deceptive about the priority in which movies are rented is simply unacceptable.

  • Solution to problem: (Score:4, Informative)

    by gte910h ( 239582 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @11:08AM (#5790283) Homepage
    Netflix already has a couple account options:
    1. $20 a month for 3 movies out at a time, unlimited rentals

    2. $30 a month for 5 movies out at a time, unlimited rentals

    3. $40 a month for 8 movies at a time, unlimited rentals

    4. $14 a month for 4 rentals a month

    So if you want extra special "I always get the movies first on my list" account, get 2 $20 a month accounts and let one lie fallow (i.e. don't use it) every other month. You'll always get the exact movies you want, and you'll also be able to keep 6 out at a time. Depending on how many you watch in a month, you possibly could get by with two $14 a month accounts.

    source: p/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=141
  • Netflix are spammers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @11:11AM (#5790321) Homepage Journal
    Netflix are spammers [], they abuse their most frequent customers by not shipping them DVDs, and I can go down to Blockbuster and rent DVDs RIGHT NOW.

    Remind me again, why would I do business with Netflix?
  • by dasmegabyte ( 267018 ) <> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @11:52AM (#5790856) Homepage Journal
    I think this system seems to make everybody at happy. Think about it: if you are very religious about sending movies back quickly, you're always getting something new. You've always got a position in the "One In" queue. So you have more chances to get that hard-to-find movie.

    People like me, who hold a disk for a long time because they like to intone every scene into memory (or are just lazy), aren't going to get more than one or two chances per month to get that must-have film. To keep it fair, and to keep the probability that either me or my diligent friend will get the movie about equal odds, you've got to weight my chances.

    Yeah, it's partly to increase the probability that people who are thinking of quitting will stay on, but even so it's the only way to make things statistically fair.
  • by MDMurphy ( 208495 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @12:54PM (#5791571)
    The idea that they might lure people into thinking that there low wait times when they first sign up and then swith later seems to fit with the "character" of the company.

    I was a netflix customer early on, when you paid per movie and had just a week to watch them. Good service, and living in San Jose right near their headquarters ( the only shiping point at the time ) meant I could sometimes order a movie on the weekend and have it arrive Monday.

    Then they paid spammers to increase their "market share". Not "opt-in" list guys, but the ones who sent to I complained, they replied that they only dealt with opt-in spammers. I told them that I'd have remembered if I'd ever created an account with the email address "". They replied that out millions of spams sent, I was the only one who complained. No apology, never mentioned they'd stop dealing with the offending spam flingers.

    So after 2 or 3 years with them I did the only thing in my power, I walked. I'd been getting DVDs every month, told all my friends, heck, even was in on a couple customer focus groups at their offices.

    Me, I'm hoping blockbuster and Walmart with their new DVD by mail services squash them like a bug. The idea of a company doing well based on vile spam doesnt' sit well with me.
  • by treeandorange ( 627362 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @02:20PM (#5792544)
    I've been a Netflix customer for quite some time and I've enjoyed the service immensely. But I wonder...

    Why do you keep sending me "Free Trial" offers on the inside flap of each envelope? Why do you keep preaching to the choir?

    Even if I had 100 friends, they'd be so sick of me handing them "Free Trial" coupons that they'd stop talking to me. Why not subsidize some of MY rental fee or the number of movies I can rent by offering your PREMIUM advertising space to companies like Best Buy or Circuit City. Or, let the advertisers offset the cost of purchasing a larger quantity of DVDs and remove LONG and SHORT waits altogether.

    It seems so obvious to me that the envelop flap should be used for advertising - ANYTHING OTHER THAN A NETFLIX product. I would love to see a coupon for $2.00 off any DVD with the purchase of any other. How about $2.00 off a pizza? How about $2.00 off a movie ticket? Why not co-op the envelope space and sell to local area grocery stores or whatever? Use your imagination!

    Use the back of the envelop flap for something that is going to benefit the CUSTOMER. Advertisers are constantly looking for new places to advertise. Here you go, a perfect space.

    And when you're all done absorbing this idea, you can send me a check or a job offer. I'm a simple man.

  • may be right (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spazoid12 ( 525450 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @02:34PM (#5792723)
    but, I never have the problem of long wait times.

    I've been a member since 2/2000 when it was 4-out for $15. They grandfathered me for many months but finally raised my price to $20, but still 4-out.

    In this time I've rotated movies very quickly and only seen any kind of wait time just once or twice.

    I did notice that following 9-11 the deliveries slowed to a crawl. Suddenly, the deliveries came the next day...and I noticed the return address very close to home. Now days, it's never more than 3 days turn-around to swap one movie for another.

    But, here's the thing that might save me from the long waits. Possibly they use algorithms such as described, and possibly the algorithms don't affect me because of this... of our 4-out I only rotate 3 quickly. The other 1 is always something my wife wants to see, and she'll be busy and not get around to seeing it for a month or two. That one might throw off their trick.

    Whatever... anything is better than Blockbuster...
  • by jhines0042 ( 184217 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @03:11PM (#5793071) Journal
    ... many of us here are Hackers, right?

    So here is the key.

    Open two accounts. One for you, one for your friend down the street. Then take turns getting "big months" and "bad months" and you'll get all of the movies you want and you'll get to watch them with a friend.

    Of course this costs you twice as much, so its not like you are stealing... you are just manipulating the system.

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @03:53PM (#5793542) Homepage
    I'd hope that Netflix factors in the number of movies that a subscriber rates when they do their little allocation formula. That's marketing information, pure and simple, and if they're smart they can parlay it into all sorts of profitmaking opportunities.

    For example: I rent a lot of horror movies. One day, while browsing through the new releases, up popped a little box asking me whether I would like to participate in a little survey about a film currently in production. The film in question turned out to be "Freddy vs. Jason," and they wanted advice on what kind of movie it should be (should it be gory? Funny? Full of kung fu action? Etc.)

    But be clear now -- they did not say what movie they were talking about before I agreed to participate in the survey. Was it a coincidence that I was asked about an upcoming horror movie? I hardly think so.

  • by angle_slam ( 623817 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @10:14PM (#5796313)
    I have no problems with the data provided by the author. It seems to be well thought out and well executed. However, it seems that non-Netflix subscribers are reading the data and concluding that a subscriber will never get the movies he wanted or never get popular movies.

    The key part of the article [] is this quote:

    I created a list of 45 movies in my queue that did not have an availability of "Now."
    Note that he specifically selected movies that weren't available. That does not mean that all movies are unavailable. Nor does it mean that popular movies are unavailable. If you look at the list of the top rentals of the past week [] and compare the list to the movies he checked, you'll notice very few movies that are in both lists.

    By focusing on unavailable movies, the author was able to hypothesize the criteria used by Netflix to determine who should get the next copy of a movie. However, some /.ers are extrapolating that data to mean that long time subscribers never get the movie they want to see, as if a person wanted to rent Harry Potter [], but is stuck watching Manos, the Hands of Fate [] (the worst movie of all-time, according to IMDB). That is not the case, if your top movie is unavailable, the next movie in your queue, a movie you specifically picked as being one you want to watch, is sent to you.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito