Making creative decisions using data, algorithms and artificial intelligence; it all sounds terrifying to people who make a living in the TV and film industry. At MIPCOM 2016 – a global TV conference held in Cannes, France – several speakers alluded to the industry’s distrust: ‘it’s an art, not a science!’
Running the numbers
When we think of data-influenced creative decisions we may think first of how Netflix used its enormous amount of data to ‘create’ hit series House of Cards. Of course, this isn’t exactly what happened. Netflix did use its data to see that films by David Fincher and films with Kevin Spacey had consistently performed well, as had the British version of House of Cards. So when the rights for the series became available, they went for it. Speaking earlier this year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings explained: “We start with the data… But the final call is always gut. It’s informed intuition.”
Using data is not something new to the TV and film industries. As Sean Cohan of A+E networks pointed out during his keynote at MIPCOM, hit shows like Vikings and Ice Road Truckers were based on highly-viewed programmes in the past. The difference now is that we have a lot more data to work with.
One argument is that data-driven decision-making could also help the industry to be more diverse as producers can easily see who their audience is and what they like. YouTube’s Susanne Daniels sees this as the unique selling point of YouTube Red: “Over the last 11 years we have seen a rich mosaic of creators emerge as diverse as the global community who watch videos on YouTube every month,” she told the Cannes audience. Using data and feedback from the community, YouTube will support its biggest stars and genres – which might traditionally have been turned down by Hollywood – to make longer form content for its premium service.
Artificial intelligence in entertainment
During MIPCOM Euronews met Nadira Azermai, CEO and founder of ScriptBook, a company that uses artificial intelligence to analyse film scripts, compare it to a database of existing scripts and then assess its commercial value based on elements like the story structure and dialogue. Azermai admits that the technology is controversial with some filmmakers who have spent years picking scripts based solely on gut instinct but she maintains that they need to “re-educate themselves” about the benefits. Studios usually have a huge backlog of scripts and realistically many of these don’t get read. So the argument to critics is that, instead of restricting creativity, AI could actually mean lesser-known but brilliant scripts don’t get missed.
Scriptbook – Hard science for a better box office https://t.co/qNGuDLFA5x— ScriptBook (@ScriptBook_io) 11 juin 2015
The services offered by The Fiction Lab seem to push this idea one stage further. The technology there promises to help producers, talents and studios satisfy and grow their audience using a blend of neuroscience and human science. In an extremely technical session given at MIPCOM, Professor Patrick Georges, a former brain surgeon, explained how they use 300 “special cognitive effects” to help clients make scripts more interesting and emotional for the target audience. For example, the software can point out a moment in a film where your script sounds ‘too written’, where you are lacking a ‘stress factor’ or where the story raises too many ‘complexity points’. The journalist moderating the session seemed dubious about The Fiction Lab technology, worrying that it will restrict creativity. Prof. Georges disagrees; he believes that this technology can help producers focus on the creative elements, knowing that they have minimized risk.
If it these AI developments work well, it’s hard to imagine why big studios would not be eager to sign up if it helps avoid repeating extremely costly box-office flops.