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by Indiewire
September 10, 2013 4:49 PM
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Digital On Demand: Show Us The Numbers

This two-way and participatory nature of where consumerism is going was sold to me in an instant. And while our personal data is certainly a hot button issue these days, I have to give Acxiom credit for bringing the consumer under the tent when it comes to their data gathering goals. And hey, if it means that I'll be receiving fewer credit card offers and more notices about sales on upscale kids' clothes, I'm all for it.

All of this made me think about our own industry, and what could be possible if there was more transparency about our data.

I think a lot about how data relates to our business. As we're all too aware, it can be currency for how our projects ultimately get off the ground.  I got this bug, as I mentioned the last time I gave a talk here in 2009 when I worked for Netflix.

Seeing film lovers put movies in their queue when festival awards were announced half-way around the world sparked both my inner data geek and opened my eyes to where movie consumption - particularly documentary viewing - was going. The big, opaque world of "digital media."

So, that great unknown is clearly here to stay.

And here's what it's telling us: the viewership for documentaries is increasingly happening on "home" entertainment platforms:  Netflix, iTunes, to some degree Hulu and Amazon.  In addition a lot of new platforms have cropped up - a few in that strange and new "crowdsourcing" category I mentioned (a-hem) and many on the consumption side like VHX and Chill.

Theatrical has even become digitally "enabled" and "on demand" with platforms like Gathr and Tugg,  – and hence you have heard of titles like Indie Game, Sound City, Girl Rising and #Regeneration.

Along the path of innovation, the "new" undoubtedly favors the documentary, whose audiences are passionate, leaning in, eager to eventize and highly "gatherable," and increasingly interested in seeing all the great stories that you filmmakers are compelled to tell.

The digital world is rich with data and documentaries are overindexing in the digitally enabled present, so suffice it to say, I found the "novel tactic of openness" mentioned in the Acxiom article reassuring. But not all platforms are equal regarding the data they offer, and hence the title of this talk today -- "Digital on Demand: Show Us the Numbers."

My goal here is to give you a snapshot of data tracking in the digital space now, some input on what we’re missing, and a few solutions to get us closer to that novel idea of "openness."

Of course, the motion picture business is no stranger to data.  We use a lot of consumer research in our industry – MPG theater test screenings, Rentrak home video numbers, Nielsen ratings, online tracking, exit polling, focus groups – there seems to be a measurement system at every point of a film's lifespan.

Studios and agencies like mine pick our poison and try to get ahead of the curve and the world goes round.


  • Ruth Saunders | September 13, 2013 2:11 AMReply

    ISAN (International Standard Audiovisual Number) is a voluntary numbering system and metadata schema for the unique and persistent identification of any audiovisual works and versions thereof including films, shorts, documentaries, television programs, sports events, advertising, etc.

  • Dan Mirvish | September 11, 2013 3:26 PMReply

    Very nice piece, Liesl, and you raise excellent points. But lack of transparency is only problematic if there's an expectation of making money. If you assume from the start that you won't make any money, then it doesn't matter. An Oscar-nominated director friend asked me yesterday: Wouldn't it make more sense for an investor to just give to a tax-deductible entity than invest in the charade that they'll make their money back? This speaks directly to my piece in Indiewire and HuffPost a few months ago that crowd-funding is fundamentally changing the paradigm of how we get and contribute to films: from an "investment" paradigm (that we've had for the last 100 years) to a "donation" one. If you think of film as an art form (like opera, symphony, public radio, or anything else with tote bags and mugs as perks), then you can quit worrying about crap like volumetrics, data currency and analytic black holes. Embrace the fact that you're going to get screwed on the back end. For years we've treated films as "don't profits"; now we need start thinking of them as "non-profits".

  • J.A.S. | September 17, 2013 2:01 PM

    In agreement with Ted, the "don't profit" model isn't as ubiquitous of a funding format if we can use data to connect with an audience early on. The niche-market distribution culture of the '90s has been subdivided into individual-market distribution based on individual streaming libraries, but filmmakers still make movies for broad theatrical demographics. It's just inconsistent and results in a waste of money and waste of talent as filmmakers can't steer their projects knowledgeably. Knowing how much money your film is worth in this new stream-based marketplace can bring more reliable profits to filmmakers and open us up to a broader range of available films.

  • Ted Hope | September 12, 2013 11:48 AM

    Dan, there can be many finance models, and there certainly is a place for not-for-profit film finance. And frankly not just a place, but a real need. As America is currently virtually fully a market-based entertainment economy, we need need nonprofit funding to diverse the creator base as well as the style and content. That said, it is precisely the market focus that has made the US the most diversified film culture there is. To me the point, we now have the opportunity to diversify the funding models significantly and with that we all will benefit -- audiences, creators, and entrepreneurs.

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