Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

USC, the Los Angeles Times and IBM Go Beyond
Best Picture to Look at the Bigger Picture

By Jonathan Taplin
Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab
The University of Southern California

  As the parade of gowns and penguin suits made their way down the red carpet and into the Oscar awards ceremony last night, I had one eye glued to my TV and the other to my Twitter feed.

For more than three decades, my career in entertainment has spanned the worlds of music, film, technology and finance. As a long-standing member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, I always await this event with eager anticipation.

But this year I decided to marry my love of film, digital media and technology by applying science to the Oscars. Why?  I wanted to better understand how the public’s opinion of Oscar nominees stacks up against the actual winners on awards night.

Keeping up with the Oscar BuzzLike many movie fans, not all of my favorite picks mirror the Academy’s choices, or those of the movie-going public for that matter.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I was shouting at the TV during the 2011 Oscar telecast when “The Social Network” didn’t take home Best Picture. That’s why the collaboration between our Lab, IBM and the LA Timesto create the Oscar ‘Senti-Meter’ was so groundbreaking.

Using advances in analytics and natural language processing, the Senti-Meter enabled us to analyze millions of daily public comments via Twitter, comparing volume and even more importantly assessing the tone. It let us pick up on positive, negative and neutral opinions, even snarky vs. sincere tweets about the best actor, actress and film nominees.

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Like similar analyses by the Lab and IBM on fashion and sports, we’re now able to take advantage of technology to uncover hidden insights and better understand consumer sentiment.  It was a fun way to follow the Oscars horse race, for sure, adding a visual and entirely new dimension to reporting by the Los Angeles Times.  And it was also a terrific way for our students to gain highly sought skills in the latest technologies that will set them apart in the business world.

But this is about even more.  Social sentiment analysis can change the way movie studios typically operate by giving them the ability to quantify the types of movies and celebrities fans prefer. It can also help movie distributors better ensure box-office success by tailoring marketing campaigns to specific audiences. Studios can use this technology to help evolve the test screening and exit survey process that typically involves polling a much smaller sample size with predetermined questions. By adopting social analysis, the studios can cast a far wider net and gain more thoughtful and honest feedback.

I believe analytics is the next game changer for Hollywood.  These technology tools will influence entertainment content and dramatically impact the bottom line by using consumer sentiment to create future box office hits.

So you should be aware that as you were pecking out Tweets last night during the Oscars, you were participating in the early days of a grand experiment on how we’ll put all the data in our lives to work. From now on, via Twitter and other social media, the voices of movie fans will be amplified and will be “Extremely Loud”, but you won’t need to be “Incredibly Close” to the red carpet to be heard.

Jonathan Taplin is a Professor at The University of Southern California and the Director of the school’s Annenberg Innovation Lab. He is a member of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Annenberg Innovation Lab and IBM are collaborating on student-led research to apply analytics technologies to business.

Learn more about how IBM and USC are collaborating on analytics and social sentiment.

Read more about how the Oscar Senti-Meter project will impact the media and entertainment industries.


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[…] the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab to reveal, via Twitter, how social sentiment analysis about Oscar-nominated films can change the way movie studios test new films. This same analysis […]

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Posted by: The Secret to Repeating Box Office Gold? Two Words: Social Sentiment « A Smarter Planet Blog
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