There was a time when math geeks and artists sat squarely on opposite sides of the lunch room. Thanks to Big Data and it’s influence on film and television, the two lines have started to blur.
But what is Big Data? Unfortunately, for many, it’s a euphemism for Big Brother, however, that’s a harsh and inaccurate comparison. In it’s most root application, it’s the utilization of technology to gather information efficiently and analyze learnings to impact business decisions. Big Data has a function in nearly every industry, most recently in the world of entertainment and content creation. Most of your favorite online content providers (i.e. Netflix, Amazon, etc) utilize data to impact what they recommend to you, and even what media they produce. Big Data has the power that major television networks have been seeking for years: the ability to predict with speed and iterate on success. In the future, Big Data will be a key factor for not only businesses that fund creative projects but for the creatives behind the content.
Here are four ways Big Data will impact television and film for years to come:
1. Instinct will be a valuable but less utilized tool
Before Big Data was Big, data was half instinct, half throwing ideas at a wall to see what sticks. Risky projects started with an exec vouching for an up and coming director because of a short he saw at a film festival. This was just called instinct, a gut feeling, and sometimes it actually worked. With Big Data, the exec can still recommend the up-and-coming director, but they will also look at YouTube streams, social media followers, and other metrics to help determine the viability of a lesser-known artist.
Additionally, high-concept shows that would have seemed risky in the past may be easier to sell with the use of Big Data. House of Cards (U.S.), for example, was green-lit not just because Netflix had a bright idea but because their data showed enough users loved Kevin Spacey, David Fincher and BBC political dramas, it would have a high probability of success.
2. Creative process will be guided by data
Cinematographers, editors, colorists, etc often have guidelines that determine how they will proceed with a project. These guidelines were historically driven by a director’s vision, personal style preference, or someone high on the totem-pole that has no direct contact with the material. Now, with Big Data, these guidelines may actually be determined by the audience. Salon.com published an article about how Netflix’s data capturing ability can eventually be synthesized to single out colors, editing styles, and actions audience took when exposed to certain production elements. With information like that, editors may know exactly where and how they will cut a film before opening their NLE.
3. Sequels based on pre-sale numbers
50 Shades of Grey was recently green-lit for two follow-ups before it made its theatrical debut. This decision along with many other future greenlight decisions will be made on box-office data gathered before the official release date of a movie. Social buzz and other points of interest that can be synthesized into actionable analytics will also drive the decision to greenlight for sequels.
4. Smarter promotion
The advertising industry has already embraced Big Data with regard to media buying and planning. As a result, the television and movie industry can also reap the benefits. Many fans claim the success of their beloved cult favorite was hindered by poor promotion. In many cases, this may be true. Many TV networks advertise within a vacuum on their own network between similar and dissimilar shows. Or they advertise on a bus getting as many unqualified eyeballs as possible. However, with data and an unlimited amount of targetable digital ad space at their fingertips, these content producers can show promos for new shows to the exact viewer they want to attract or those who have shown in the past they're interested in similar types of shows.
Similar to the way actuarial science has massively improved the way insurance companies price their policies, Big Data will help improve the ways the film and television ecosystem derive their next hit. Although some creatives may push back on letting something as cold and sterile as “data” influence their creative decisions, it’s an inevitable likelihood that should improve the process rather than hinder it. In any event, regardless of the “creep factor’ Big Data is here to stay.