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

But there are some analytic "black holes" that we - the buyers, sellers, and content creators - can't see into. For starters Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and Hulu. And we are receiving data but there is no uniform reporting or clarity along the chain that would allow us to really do something with that information.

A "viral video" from the last week or two is also relevant to this discussion about data and content. You may have caught this speech from Oscar-winning, Emmy-nominated actor Kevin Spacey at the Edinburgh Television Conference.

In it he discussed his experience getting "House of Cards" off the ground, and how Netflix and similar platforms are affecting the traditional television development model.

Spacey sort of embodies the bridge between old media and new; he is the Artistic Director of the Old Vic Theatre Company in London and the co-founder of Trigger Street Productions and Labs with digital pioneer and social media maven Dana Brunetti.

If you haven't seen Spacey's talk yet (which some of you probably have since it's already had more than 1M hits), I encourage you to watch it. 

One of the most interesting things he said was that when he, Beau Willimon and David Fincher met with all the networks in pitching the series "House of Cards," something unique happened at Netflix. They said, and I quote: "we looked inside our data and know our subscribers will enjoy your series --  'we believe in you.;" (

He also made a point that should be very compelling to content creators in the room about the difference between the traditional TV pilot model and the "straight to series" /"House of Cards" model.

He implied that there would naturally be a different product at the end of these two processes by the very fact of how they operate and strive for success.

Netflix greenlights approximately 13 episodes at once, releasing them at the same time, trusting that the audience is going to allow the story to play out.  In the traditional model, networks order about 100 pilots a season, air about a third of them, and decide what they will send to series based on the reaction to more or less one block of 22 or 44 minutes.

The full season approach allows for and recognizes that it can be afforded more patience from the audience. Meanwhile in the network model, makers of TV pilots have to describe everything that's at stake, define all of the characters and their motivations, and wow and cliffhanger their way to a positive response from execs and focus groups in less than an hour.

Spacey talks about how focus groups almost tanked "House of Blues" for all the wonderful characteristics that made it so unique and special, and draws our attention to how both "The Sopranos" and "Seinfeld" developed audiences over 4 or 5 seasons before reaching their peak. Sometimes content needs time to connect with its core audience. And sometimes that might not even happen it a film or TV series' primary window.

At the recent season premiere of season 5.2 of "Breaking Bad," the accumulated audience from the series picking up speed on other platforms - ringing in the highest ratings to date - was called "The Netflix Effect.

People are watching things out of time, on demand, and that very fact is also giving the content more of a chance.

Most of the platforms showing content out of time are creating original series, but the point is the data set is helping them do it in potentially more effective ways, and also helping audiences connect with them, paying dividends back to the creative process.

Of course we know that both Netflix and the networks have data.  But the types of data they have are very different.

Over the past decade Netflix has developed a much more complex data set for film and television content viewing.  They know everything you and I have ordered since the day we became subscribers.  They know if you consistently rate content from different genres, if you're watching "Breasts:  A Documentary" in the middle of the afternoon…they even know if you are cheating on your spouse - Have you seen those ads?

I can see the engineer who was puzzled at the behavior of all of these households watching episodes twice.  Probably right at the beginning of a binge, and intuiting that it meant someone in the household couldn't wait to get further ahead into their favorite series so they committed Netflix Adultery.

Networks don't have data at such a sophisticated level.

They don't have the ability to see all of the series that you're watching, they can't follow what you’re watching on your office computer, and they definitely don't have insight into what series you are passionate about, evidenced by a weekend of binge watching, willingness to sit through an episode twice to keep your marriage alive, or whether you give a series of film a 2 or a 5 star viewer rating.

The idea here is that access to data is not enough. More so, it's the complexity of that data and the ability to relate it to data about other content that will ultimately allow creatives like many of you in this room the opportunity to make better content. And relate it across platforms.

So if this is a means to richer content and more engaged audiences, where are we with gaining access and analysis of this data?

While we have insight into some of the data, the reporting hasn't evolved with the rapidly increasing viewership patterns. There is still no uniform reporting system that aggregates all data on, say, a film or documentary across all of the platforms.

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  • 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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