Netflix Tracks Cities' Movie Tastes The online movie rental company Netflix is now tracking its members' cinematic tastes by city and ZIP code. Murray Horwitz of the American Film Institute talks about what folks are watching from Billings, Mont., to Chicago.

Netflix Tracks Cities' Movie Tastes

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The online movie-rental company Netflix may not know when you're sleeping or know when you're awake, but they sure do track and sort the rental preferences of their subscribers, and now their Web site can show you what members are renting by city or zip code.

So are video tastes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan notably different from those in Manhattan, Kansas? We asked Murray Horwitz, the director and chief operating officer of the American Film Institute Silver Theater and Cultural Center and both an opera libretticist and a former NPR executive before he went off to the Cayman Islands with our travel budget to scroll through some of those Netflix selections. He joins us in our studio.

Mr. MURRAY HORWITZ (Director, Chief Operating Officer, American Film Institute Silver Theater and Cultural Center): You promised not to tell.

SIMON: Murray, thanks for being with us.

Mr. HORWITZ: It's great to be here, Scott, as always. Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: What do you notice?

Mr. HORWITZ: First of all, we have to get the ground rules straight. It says at the top: Members in and around - your town here - are currently renting these titles much more than other Netflix members. It's not the most-rented. I'm sure everybody's renting, you know, "Spiderman 3" and "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "No Country for Old Men." It's just that these films are more rented in this town than they are in other towns.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: And the pattern that emerged is people are really parochial. The - it started out in Washington, right? Among the first five films in Washington are "K Street: The Complete Series."

SIMON: Oh gosh, of course, yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: And "Goodbye Lenin," and then "Our Brand is Crisis," which is about, you know, political imaging, and even…

SIMON: Oh this is real imaginative, Washington film-goers, yeah.

Mr. HORWITZ: Number 11, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

SIMON: Oh my gosh. It's a tribute, though, to a great film…

Mr. HORWITZ: So I figured okay, look, what's the city with the reputation, at least, for being the most sophisticated. So I go up I-95 or up the Amtrak railway to New York, New York. Number one, "Next Stop, Greenwich Village." Number two, "Barefoot in the Park."

So then I figure okay, I'm looking in the wrong places. You know, Billings, Montana; Casper, Wyoming. "Comanche Moon: The Road to Lonesome Dove."

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Mr. HORWITZ: "Broken Trail," (unintelligible) also with Robert Duvall. And so I decided you and I have hometowns. I decided we'd put our hometowns…

SIMON: Both in the Midwest.

Mr. HORWITZ: In the Midwest: Dayton, Ohio, and Chicago, Illinois. So I decided to go head to head with you. I'm going to read to you now the first five films that members in and around Chicago, Illinois are currently renting more than other Netflix members.

"H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer," which is about Chicago.

SIMON: Chicago, yes.

Mr. HORWITZ: "Expo: Magic of the White City."

SIMON: About Chicago.

Mr. HORWITZ: "Wicker Park."

SIMON: Chicago.

Mr. HORWITZ: "Call Northside 777," Jimmy Stewart

SIMON: Chicago movie, yes.

Mr. HORWITZ: "The Blues Brothers." And so then I go to Dayton, right? "Multiplicity," "Holes," "Wedding Daze," "Robots," and "Ladder 49." And I was completely befuddled. Either Dayton is eclectic and inclusive and democratic, as I want to believe it always has been, or this is all completely meaningless.

SIMON: Murray Horwitz, director and chief operating officer at the American Film Institute Silver Theater and Cultural Center. This is NPR News.

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