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Netflix is the world’s largest online movie rental service. It started in nineteen ninety-eight. It now has ten million paying members in the United States. This week it named the winners of a million dollar competition to improve its system for suggesting movies to its members.

Netflix was a simple idea that took off like a wildfire. A person pays a monthly fee to become a member. Members can order a certain number of movies from the Netflix Web site.

The DVDs are sent and returned through the mail very quickly. Netflix members do not have to go to the video store to get movies or to return them. And they can keep their movies for as long as they want. But, they cannot order new ones until they return the ones they have. Members can also watch some movies and television shows directly on their computers or televisions.

The Netflix Web site has almost any movie or television series members could want to see. If they have trouble choosing, the Web site has a built-in suggestion system. Members can note how much they liked a movie they just watched. Netflix then suggests other movies based on those ratings. It does so by comparing the movies the member has rated with all the movies on the site.

But several years ago, Netflix officials decided they were not satisfied with the system for suggesting movies. So they decided on an unusual way to improve the system. They announced a prize of one million dollars to a team who could design computer software that did a better job of predicting which movies members would like.

That was in October of two thousand six. More than forty thousand teams from almost one hundred ninety countries competed.

On September twenty-first, a team called BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos was named the winner of the Netflix Prize. The seven team members are from Austria, Canada, Israel and the United States. They include computer engineers, statisticians and machine-learning experts. At one point in the competition the team members had been opponents, but they joined forces to increase their chances of winning.

Netflix founder Reed Hastings praised the winners and competitors. He said the contest was as exciting as a movie. And, minutes after awarding the prize, Netflix announced a second one million dollar competition to improve the system even more.
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