“Americans’ tastes are really broad.”

The IFC Blog (which, by the way, you should read even if you don’t watch — or even get — IFC) writes today about an article in the NYT about Netflix. Sounds like a worthwhile read.

Here’s the quote that whetted my appetite:

Its return from oblivion is a nice illustration of a brainteaser I have been giving my friends since I visited Netflix in Silicon Valley last month. Out of the 60,000 titles in Netflix’s inventory, I ask, how many do you think are rented at least once on a typical day?

The most common answers have been around 1,000, which sounds reasonable enough. Americans tend to flock to the same small group of movies, just as they flock to the same candy bars and cars, right?

Well, the actual answer is 35,000 to 40,000. That’s right: every day, almost two of every three movies ever put onto DVD are rented by a Netflix customer. “Americans’ tastes are really broad,” says Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive. So, while the studios spend their energy promoting bland blockbusters aimed at everyone, Netflix has been catering to what people really want — and helping to keep Hollywood profitable in the process.

I’ve believed this last bit for a long time, but I’ve only had anecdotal evidence to prove it (conversations with all sorts of non-film people, experiences on the festival circuit, etc.). It’s great to hear the CEO of a company confirm my intuition with some data.

See also: The Long Tail.

4 Responses to ““Americans’ tastes are really broad.””

  1. Jason Scott Says:

    Netflix’s inventory of 60,000 does not equal “every movie put on DVD”. It equal’s Netflix’s inventory of 60,000 titles.

    Additionally, Netflix does not help keep Hollywood profitable; renting does not equal “later bought a copy for permanent ownership”.

  2. Paul Says:

    Yeah – that’s nowhere near the number of every movie put on DVD. Indie titles… non-R1 stuff…

    Arguably, things like Netflix do help Hollywood in the sense that Netflix promotes, largely, Hollywood titles. And they do this for free, not at the studios’ bidding (presumably).

  3. Jason Scott Says:

    About once every two weeks (it used to be every day) I get asked if I’m on Netflix, or if I’ve tried to get on Netflix. This question is interesting along several levels.

    First of all, the economics of it doesn’t make sure to the average hungry small-time film person. You send Netflix 5 copies and there’s 500 people who will see your movie for 1/100th of the earnings for you.

    Luckily I’m not an average hungry small-time film person and don’t care about that, I’m just happy for people to see the work.

    That said, I know many many people contacted Netflix and asked them to order copies of the BBS Documentary and that never happened. So in my small case, they not only don’t carry my work, they ignored dozens (might have been over a hundred) requests to carry it.

    So while it’s fun to shoehorn the Long Tail crap into every nook and cranny of media analysis and criticism, there’s more generic factors at work here, i.e. Netflix has a specific set of DVDs they rent, and they know their audiences.

  4. Paul Says:

    I’m not surprised by your Netflix story. Still, however imperfect, simply by the numbers and their distribtion model, Netflix is a better example of “the long tail” (a concept that I obviously find interesting) than either your local Blockbuster store or your local multiplex.