Earlier this month, Warner Brothers acquired the movie-focused social media site Flixster, along with the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes. There are all sorts of strategic reasons why a movie studio would want to own these sites, but the one that strikes me as the most interesting was laid out quite well in this recent blog post. The title says it all: “Can Data Save the Studios in the Age of Social Media?”
As the author notes, “With this deal, Warner gains direct access to millions of movie fans, and to the data generated by their social interactions around movies – both essential ingredients to build a direct-to-consumer movie business owned and operated by Hollywood.”
The history of the relationship between Hollywood and its audiences is a fascinating one. I mined this literature quite deeply for Audience Evolution’s opening chapter on the rationalization of audience understanding. Such pioneering figures in the history of communications research as Paul Lazarsfeld and George Gallup played prominent roles in the early development of motion picture audience research methods.
There has been, at various points in Hollywood’s history, quite pronounced resistance to treating motion pictures like standard products for which consumer demand can be accurately predicted via various scientific methods. At this point in the history of the motion picture industry, however, it seems safe to say that any pockets of resistance have essentially broken down.
Not only are studios looking to the web to gain new data sources to aid in forecasting the revenue potential of film products and to aid in the effective marketing of these products; but they are also employing sophisticated predictive software such as Epagogix that can supposedly predict the box office returns for a planned film based on the various story and character elements contained within the screenplay.
Historically, we’ve thought of the process of automation as replacing various forms of manual laborers such as factory workers. But now, clearly, many of those whose jobs have focused on the process of trying to understand and anticipate audiences tastes and preferences (whether it be in motion pictures, television, music, or even journalism) seem likely to find their jobs disappearing as well.