The 87th Academy Awards are this weekend, and while we will certainly see A-list actresses and actors, renowned directors, screenwriters, and producers in their most glamorous garb, there is one star of the film industry that we won’t see strutting down the red carpet. A prodigy, already making great waves in the media, art, and entertainment worlds: and Data is the name. Big, Data. Big Data may not seem like it could share the stage with the likes of George Clooney and Anne Hathaway, but one could argue it’s just as an important player in the industry, if not more so.
Every blockbuster, every major TV season premiere or finale, every concert tour generates millions of Facebook posts, Instagram photos, IMDB ratings and reviews, “live tweets”, etc. that provide an immense trove of unstructured sentiment data (regarding the Academy Awards, they call this “Oscar buzz”). Each time an individual purchases a movie ticket on Fandango, watches episodes on Netflix, or downloads a soundtrack from Amazon, this data is recorded somewhere. And it’s a lot of data. James Cameron’s 2009 release of “Avatar” generated 17.28 gigabytes of data per minute, and DreamWorks’ “Despicable Me” 3D generated 142 terabytes. Even for Big Data, that’s big.
Many organizations have already taken advantage of these data sources and used them to do fascinating things in the world of cinema. In a recent study, scientists were able to predict with 91% accuracy, out of the thousands upon thousands of films listed on IMDB, which ones were significant enough to be inducted into Congress’ National Film Registry. The crucial variable here was how many times a film was referenced in other films—not critic’s reviews or box office revenue. Perhaps a more relevant example is using analytical modeling to predict Oscar winners. Last year, FarsiteForecast used “real-time data and an array of variables, including total nominations, other Guild nominations and wins, buzz and nominees’ previous winning performances” to predict the winners of the top categories—and they were right on, 6/6. Pretty impressive. Or as 2014’s Best Actor, Matthew McConaughey might say: “Alright alright alright…”
This is all incredibly interesting, but where’s the real insight or benefit? Just like when a director asks his lead character: what’s your motive? Why does Big Data really matter to the entertainment industry? Well, as with any area of business, Big Data and analytics can make a tremendous difference. Analyzing all of this data can provide insight to make more informed and impactful production, marketing, and even creative decisions. FilmTrack CEO, Jason Kassin, illuminates a shift here: “the ideal method of data analysis on the studio end should always be in determining the best strategy for finding an audience and not in developing properties entirely around gaining an audience.” So far, one of the most powerful demonstrations of using consumer-driven data in film is Netflix’s original show, “House of Cards.” Netflix has the ability to monitor all sorts of behavior and preferences on their streaming site from millions of users, which is an invaluable data source. Analyzing this data showed that viewers of the original BBC miniseries were also likely to watch films directed by David Fincher and were likely fans of Kevin Spacey as well. Thus, an American “House of Cards” was created, directed by Fincher and starring Spacey. Netflix even made different trailers for different viewer profiles (e.g. users that watch films with powerful female characters were shown a trailer heavily featuring the female leads). “House of Cards” is now a major hit, and currently the most-viewed series by Netflix subscribers. This could potentially mean a major change the entertainment industry: instead of a bunch of lofty producers in Hollywood, ideas for major motion pictures could, essentially, be crowdsourced. The implications here? Having an audience for the film before it’s is even made, and the end of movie “flops” altogether. Success with Big Data could almost be as easy as success by casting Meryl Streep as a lead.
Big Data is set to have a phenomenal impact on film, TV, and all other kinds of media. While the 2015 Oscars may not reflect these changes just yet, I wager that it won’t be long until the winners are giving their acceptance speeches and saying, “I’d like to thank the Academy, and Big Data…”