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Big Data is everywhere – it turns out even when you go to the movies.

How the movie was distributed and promoted, the advertisements you see before the movie is screened, and how it will be distributed later through channels like Netflix are all determined by data analysis. And with huge troves of data available to mine – so-called Big Data – marketers are getting increasingly sophisticated at targeting movies. For instance, they use demographic and geographic information, add it to Twitter and Facebook postings  and early reviews to decide – often at the last moment – what advertisements to show movie-goers, said Bill Livek, CEO of Rentrak, a media measurement company.

“Big Data empowers the studios to change their advertising. As the movie rolls across the United States, they use that information,” he said.

Livek was speaking at a panel on Big Data at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York that had been sponsored by SAP.

Richard Whittington, general manager of media industry solutions at SAP, moderated the discussion and stressed the economic importance of Big Data. “Big Data is new oil,” he said, drawing a parallel to the effects of oil on the global economy.

Panelists talked about the various ways in which data is determining business decisions. Christina Warren, a senior technology analyst at Mashable talked about data-driven journalism, which is currently getting more and more fashionable. It is based on Big Data.

“Oftentimes, pieces of content will go viral. Our goal is to cover the content before it goes mainstream,” explaining Mashable’s philosophy.  Mashable uses Youtube share counts, Twitter, Facebook and so on to monitor thousands of data sources.

Eugene Hernandez, director of digital strategy, Film Society of Lincoln Center, had a different take.  He said that relying only on popularity – as in creating content just based on the number of clicks – could miss some very good films.

“If we can find a film that has tremendous artistic value but has tough subject matter, an analyst may say, it may be tough to get an audience,” he said.  But yet that film might appeal to the membership of  the Film Society of Lincoln Center. 

“We can take something that is challenging and show it to people. There is tension between what the data tells you and the heart tells you.”

That said, Hernandez stressed that the Film Society is “constantly looking at the data” such as whether its members are buying tickets online and so on in an effort to improve their operations. However, how the curators feel about a film is still the most important factor.

“Sentiment is everything. It starts with sentiment.  The heart leads, and we like to figure out how data can help us connect with our audience.”

Other panelists seemed to agree. Jason Kassin, co-founder and CEO of Filmtrack, an organization that helps manage IP in the film industry, said creating a film “is still an organic, artistic process. “ But with the advent of Big Data  “the ease of looking at this data will help make better decisions.”

A topic that came up again and again was the changing nature of the movie industry. Livek pointed out that the consumer behavior has changed radically when it comes to viewing movies and TV. “Eighty percent of the viewing of a TV show is happening more than three days after airing,” he said. Independent films are growing disproportionately because of the new platforms that are available.

Stacy Spikes, CEO and co-founder of MoviePass, pointed out some of new insights that come from Big Data.We can see that people who go to Bollywood movies travel in groups of four to six.”

Livek said Big Data has big economic implications for the film industry. He talked about  the Chinese economy opening up to the American movie producer, with is potentially a doubling of the addressable market.

In the future, Big Data will be used for strategy as well as for tactics in the movie industry.

“We can take cost out of the equation – and make the industry more productive,” he said.

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