Industry Report: Digital
BigData.BigMovies reveals cinema digitalisation opportunities
by Fran Royo
- Last 22 and 23 September, the BigData.BigMovies event took place in Potsdam and Berlin, Germany. This international conference is a project by the Erich Pommer Institut and the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF in collaboration with Marketing Center Münster at the University of Münster, for scientists and industry practitioners aimed at discussing the effects of big data on the film and television industry, which has recently been challenged by the rise of digitalisation. Insights from clever analysis of big data by a large pool of professionals and scholars from several disciplines (marketing, management and economics) became the central discussion point of the meeting. The conference tried to prove the value of big datasets and econometric models in an industry determined, until now, by creativity and intuition.
The development of knowledge about big data could lead to file sharers becoming market makers, and this presents a number of advantages and disadvantages. Christoph Ihl, who is a professor at the Hamburg University of Technology, and whose research focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship in creative industries, predominantly on the potential, challenges and consequences of digitalisation for individuals and organisations, spoke about his assessment of these risks:
“Incumbent firms typically focus on the main risk of online piracy and file sharing, which, of course, result in dwindling revenues. However, research to date shows that, while the substitutional effect of file sharing is mostly true for mainstream products, niche and atypical products can actually benefit from promotional effects of file sharing. To better embrace the opportunities presented by file sharing, producers should: (1) encourage users to focus on niche products; (2) incentivise them to actually add product value beyond mere file sharing, e.g. providing subtitles and the like; and (3) explicitly target user communities as file sharers that have a high level of social influence and wide variety of audiences.”
Any technological difference applied to cinema should have an effect on its performance. So, how would big data change film performance, then? Allègre Hadida, a senior lecturer in strategy and the director of Cambridge Judge Business School’s MPhil in Management programme, whose research focuses on strategy in the creative, artistic and media industries and on creativity in business, answered:
“Big data is already changing the way studios put films together and promote them in such crucial movie markets as China and the USA. The methodological opportunities offered by big data are also opening new avenues to film industry researchers. The emergence of a dialogue between industry and academia around big data collection, usage, and effects offers exciting opportunities for us all to jointly improve our understanding of film performance.”
And Paul Marx, assistant professor in marketing at the University of Siegen, where he researches e-commerce, preference measurement, new media, big data, and recommender systems, stated:
“I think that, with big data, we have discovered a phenomenon that holds a tremendous amount of energy that can nurture both good and evil. It is only good as long as it remains under strong technical supervision and moral control. Big data has opened many possibilities that the movie industry could only dream of. Using big data allows us to understand people’s preferences, track their reactions to movies in real time, adjust storylines of the following week’s TV episode, and produce movies that people will definitely like. Some interesting applications have yet to be invented. However, for big data to remain on the good side, the decision makers in the movie industry must maintain a certain amount of technological and moral control and carefully monitor the extent of its influence. Knowing spontaneous movie watchers’ reactions and their current preferences can provide filmmakers with good creative stimulus. On the other hand, too heavy a reliance on big data can greatly restrict the creative process.
So, I would say that big data opened many new and attractive possibilities for the movie industry, but it didn’t change the world – ‘the world’s still the same’. It is up to managers, directors, screenwriters and other creative professionals to figure out what to make of this new phenomenon. And it’s up to them and to the public not to allow big data to go to the evil side.”
The conference portrayed the partnership between big data and movie success as potentially dangerous for the future of filmmaking, with some insights provoking a deep discussion on the relativity of movie success. One such insight came from Michela Addis, associate professor of marketing at Universiti degli Studi di Roma Tre, whose research interests include experiential marketing, cinematic consumption, and, more generally, hedonic consumption, who stated:
“We firstly need to define what movie success is. Usually people think about success from the commercial perspective. Such a view focuses on the market’s acceptance of movies, which can be measured both by financial metrics (box office, rentals, and so forth) and by popular appeal indicators (such as buzz, word of mouth, etc.). However, this is only one of the possible perspectives on success. By correctly analysing data, players can learn what kinds of investments are needed to increase commercial and artistic success or awards. But they also need to know the consequences related to the other dimensions of success. And this is true with regard to any of the dimensions of success. Movies must be clearly positioned; they can work either on the artistic path or on the commercial path, and each positioning implies specific investments, and specific results.
Thus, big data could support filmmakers and all other players in the industry by providing evidence for such a big network of variables. And by doing that, they can help the industry in clarifying movies' positioning. And that is a matter of marketing.”
Tom van Laer, a senior lecturer in Marketing at Cass Business School, City University London, UK, specialising in storytelling, social media, and consumer behaviour, concluded the interview by deliberating on the possibility of the loss of art, intuition and creativity in cinema after its computerisation:
“If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today, would he still make movies with celluloid, or would he sit calmly at a desk, hand on mouse, editing dazzling dramas on his computer screen? Most of us would happily admit to having less talent in both hands than a great director, like him, had in a millimetre of his pinkie, but computers can turn us into reasonably competent, everyday filmmakers all the same. Whether you are a screenwriter or a director, a film student or a scientist, computational linguistics can make your work faster, easier, and much more effectively.”