Hollywood and Analytics - an Imminent Love Affair

Opinion post for VillainLabs about future of analytics in entertainment industry. Written by Rogue Saint.

When it comes to humans, a love affair is usually short and passionate, most likely sparked by a moment of attraction. An affair can eventually turn into something long term, let's say a marriage. With over fifty percent of modern marriages ending in divorce, however, we can say that marriages are no longer built to last forever. Human marriages, that is. However, we're not interested in social interactions between humans within this article. Another kind of love affair looms on the horizon that will unravel the entertainment industry. It won't be featured in tabloid magazines. It also won't be built on a moment of chemistry but forged by reason and interest. Lack of chemistry doesn't mean that there won't be "stains all over the sheets," as it was put in the infamous Hollywood movie Basic Instinct.

The much-anticipated affair aims to touch consumers for commercial interest. With vast reach and potential, it is a connection that may last for centuries to come. Of course, I'm talking about a bond between Tinseltown heavyweights and analytics. Hollywood has more than enough reasons to dig deep into numbers to search for new ways to reach consumers. Why is Hollywood slow to jump full frontal on the analytics band wagon, then? And what can analytics do for the movie and TV business?

Major Hollywood players already use some kind of analytics. Today, this affair mostly involves collecting metadata on moviegoers from social networks, sum box office numbers and general info on a wide variety of features over the last twenty to twenty-five years. Some in Hollywood have gone further and now use data for casting purposes, making trailers, choosing release dates... No matter how intense this may appear, it’s only the beginning. Analytics has the potential not just to influence entertainment but to revolutionize it in a way many of us never thought possible. Forget Moneyball, Major League Baseball and sports. This could be earth shattering.

Think replacing human labor, using social bots for positive promotion, producing even more shows and movies at lower cost, and tailoring entertainment to the unconscious desires of the masses. But, but... you want to jump in and say "art shouldn't always be tailored to people’s desires." I agree. Art shouldn't; however, when art is produced for the masses, it ceases to be art. It becomes entertainment. Whether we like it or not, entertainment must be designed to the masses. Try to go against the populace and see how long your product lasts.

In the grand scheme of things, it is not only collecting data that is important; it is also who interprets that data and in what way. Paired with analytics, another powerful player lurks – artificial intelligence. Long gone are the days of primitive communications between humans and machines. In the last twenty years, machines have made improvements the human brain could only dream of. Let's mention some of them and analyze their potential for use in entertainment.

In 1997, for the first time, a machine beat a world chess champion in six games. In the middle of the 2000s, with the rise of social media emerged bots that could engage in primitive online conversation with humans. Today, many people wrongfully think of bots as egg-shaped Twitter accounts. In reality, a "person" with whom you're discussing 2016 politics, current events, sports, etc. in decent or flammable discourse online is often actually a bot.

Yes, you read that correctly. Social bots that serve in political campaigns and special interest groups are now so good that they may have dozens or more pictures of their personas, hundreds or thousands of believable "friends" and streams of what appear to be natural conversations on their profile pages. It is projected that in the near future, the volume of bot communication on the Internet will surpass that of human correspondence. While this might sound scary, I haven’t finished yet.

In 2016, an AI pilot dubbed ALPHA defeated US Air Force colonel Gene Lee in multiple combat fight simulations. The AI didn't defeat the colonel once, twice or seventy-five percent of time. ALPHA shot him down EVERY single time. Colonel Lee called it "the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI I've seen to date."

Now you may be wondering what movies and entertainment have to do with these examples. If the military-industrial complex can shell out dough for programmers to create an AI that will fly an attack helicopter and successfully complete combat missions, I'm quite confident Hollywood studios can make one for their needs. It is a major investment with significant startup costs, but it will save millions in the future.

If machines already store and categorize billions of data items... If social bots can overtake conversation as well as promotion – and they can and soon will... If an AI can already, today, in the words of one of the ALPHA's creators Nick Ernest, "approach complex problems much like a human would, breaking the larger task into smaller subtasks, by considering only the most relevant variables, it can make complex decisions with extreme speed. The AI can calculate the best maneuvers in a complex, dynamic environment, over 250 times faster than its human opponent can blink." If all these mechanisms already exist and give fantastic results, then we can conclude that similar mechanisms have the potential to virtually reshape the world of entertainment.

I’d like to explore a fictional project from a made-up Hollywood studio. Our Hollywood studio wants to make a horror feature. Okay, we’ll input every single frame of every single horror movie ever made and analyze them. We’ll use bots to feel out the current social mood of the horror audience. The bots will also search for the best fit for our music at the end of the second act. The bots will determine what quotes have worked in other horror films. Using analytics, we’ll design our villains to be like those our audience expects for a horror movie. When the research and analysis is done, we’ll task an AI to... well, to do anything we need, from writing a script or at least major acts... to choosing the most socially acceptable cast... to providing us with storyboards... even to editing the final cut if we want to save extra money. And you never know – it may be able to do that 250 times faster than we can blink.

If we can thoroughly analyze our audience and cater to them with the product they want to see, then this method can be replicated throughout the entertainment industry. From movies and TV series to late-night talk shows, morning programs, music, events... The options may not be unlimited, but they are close to it. Before I let you sink in your own thoughts, I will close with my own quote: "The future in the distance... belongs to machines... For organic forms... remains a future of doubt."

Your neighborhood villain.

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VillianLabs by Rogue Saint: Hollywood and Analytics - an Imminent Love Affair
Hollywood and Analytics - an Imminent Love Affair
Opinion post for VillainLabs about future of analytics in entertainment industry. Written by Rogue Saint.
VillianLabs by Rogue Saint
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