Amazon is introducing its own series, too, and Hollywood is abuzz with hope that Netflix and Amazon will spend wild sums of money on even more shows. Sarandos, though, says Netflix is very calculating in its buys. The company puts actors’ names and the show type through its algorithms to determine the likely size of an audience. “I can justify the spend with our data and do so with a far greater degree of confidence than the television networks,” he says. Viewers have given House of Cards a rating of 4.5 stars out of five, which Sarandos says suggests the company is on the right track. “It’s definitely art and science mixing,” he says. Sarandos goes on to say that Netflix will use its data to help pick which actors should be in future shows and who should direct them.
Beau Willimon, the show runner for House of Cards, says the story and actors were all decided before Netflix bought the series. “Every single casting and story choice was made from the creative side,” he says. Even though Netflix has a rich trove of data about the House of Cards audience, Willimon has tried to avoid hearing about any viewership statistics. “That sort of data is a dangerous thing,” he says. “If you put too much thought into that stuff, you run the risk of trying to pander to people.”
This is the second story I’ve read on the past week talking about how algorithms are being used to determine entertainment/art. The first was this NYTimes article NY Times article on Hollywood using data analysis to make sure that a script would be popular enough to secure financing.
When it comes to entertainment, or art that will also double as mass entertainment where goal #1 or #2 will be “Make as much money as possible,” this makes perfect sense.
Traditionally, the money men in the entertainment history have about as much data to back up their long held truths about their industry as the baseball scouts who said that a player’s lack of girlfriend meant lack of confidence and meant he’d be a poor hitter, or political pundits who make assumptions about a politicians chances of winning made on observations such as “a Democrat doesn’t win when the AFC wins the SuperBowl.”
Artists work hard on getting things right, getting the emotional impact try want in the best way possible. They take notes from friends, editors, critics, and take them all into account before creating a final product. This is not really all that different, and is mostly quantitatively data driven. That doesn’t mean there might not still be speculation built into the algorithms and interpretations
I also think many artists could benefit from a set of tools that allowed there work, no matter what the message, to reach as large an audience as possible. For too long, the arts in the western world have equated popularity/success with lack of artistically merit. That it lacked authenticity, or truth, or honesty.
So, at what point does usage data from eReaders become actually useful to us, and writers can do the same thing. Do literary websites share view counts with authors and contributors? That could certainly help create future content for those publications. The trap is to not make it formulaic. We’re looking to create The Godfather II with this data not The Hangover II.
I know there are many people who may disagree with me on this. Probably lots, but I think if used correctly, by the right people, data enhanced art could be a very good thing.