Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Film Buffs Help Netflix Sort Movies

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Film Buffs Help Netflix Sort Movies

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES -- After Greg Harty rolls out of bed in his Los Angeles apartment, he grabs a cup of coffee and starts his work day at a desk in the corner of his living room. His assignment: Watch three episodes of "Modern Family."

As the hit sitcom plays, the aspiring screenwriter opens another window on his laptop and pulls up a spreadsheet. He begins picking labels -- his employer, Netflix, calls them tags -- to describe what he sees.

Later that morning, Mr. Harty uploads the spreadsheet to Netflix's computers at its Silicon Valley headquarters. Then he starts watching the movie "50/50."

"It's a perfect job, because I don't go to an office. I work on my own time, and I get paid to watch movies, which makes me a better writer," said Mr. Harty, 33.

His choices will become part of an algorithm that produces the personal recommendations made to about 30 million viewers worldwide when they sign in to Netflix. Some of the descriptions are seen by subscribers, while others are used internally.

If you like "Twin Peaks," the algorithm says you might also enjoy "Quincy M.E." and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" because Mr. Harty and others on a team of freelancers have tagged each of them as "cerebral," "suspenseful," "TV mysteries."

Mr. Harty is one of about 40 independent contractors, a group that includes a travel writer in Hawaii, a stay-at-home mother in Illinois, an independent filmmaker in Mexico City and several aspiring screenwriters in Los Angeles. The work of these taggers makes it possible for Netflix to steer viewers to movies and TV programs they are likely to enjoy.

The taggers were hired for their love of entertainment and their ability to evaluate it quickly. Many are film school graduates who once worked in Hollywood -- or dream of doing so.

They're the ones who pick from more than 1,000 tags to describe thousands of movies and television series offered by Netflix to viewers in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Great Britain and Ireland. Every movie is watched by a single person, as are at least three episodes of every TV series. …

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