By Jonathan Taplin
Before I became a university professor, I had a long career in the entertainment business–first as a concert producer for the likes of Bob Dylan and The Band, and later as producer of motion pictures, including Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and The Last Waltz.
Both the music and movie industries have been utterly transformed by the Internet, in positive and negative ways. But I sense that we’re still at the beginning stages of this big shift, and that some of the most interesting developments are yet to come. For example, social sentiment analysis is going to change the game for Hollywood marketing.
Evidence of the changes and challenges to come is abundant in the Film Forecaster analysis that USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and IBM conducted over the past few weeks at the front end of the holiday movie viewing season. It also surfaced in an LA event we hosted on Wednesday night, A Night Behind the Movies, where the panel included Robert Friedman, co-chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.
The IBM Social Sentiment Index, which we used to conduct the Film Forecaster analysis, relies on sophisticated analytics and natural language processing to understand the opinions shared on millions of public Twitter Tweets. It offers up penetrating insights into why certain films did well and poorly–insights that will help movie studio marketing executives determine how to best capitalize on that knowledge.
Our results demonstrate not just the usefulness of monitoring social sentiment but the importance of deeply analyzing the raw results so marketing leaders come away with a precise understanding of what consumers think and want. For example, before the mid-November release of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 our index showed positive sentiment toward the movie of 90%. Yet on Saturday, Nov. 24, in the midst of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the positive sentiment dipped to 75%.
Did that mean consumers were disappointed with the film? Actually, no. We discovered on close examination that many of the people who used words in their Tweets signaling sadness or disappointment were reacting to the emotional moments in the film or to the fact that their beloved series is ending with this installment.
Social sentiment analysis is such an immature field that much about it still has to be explored. Marketers have to learn to use the new tools effectively and apply them to various types of data. The tools themselves must be improved. And, at the same time, marketers must be aware that the way consumers use social media is constantly evolving–and their techniques and tools and marketing strategies will have to evolve rapidly as well. (At our lab, we’re teaching students these skills.)
Today, entertainment marketers are just beginning to experiment with using social sentiment. The most sophisticated organizations use their readings of sentiment to shape marketing messages or to reshape campaigns that they learn are off target.
Dreamworks, for instance, discovered before it release the animated feature Puss in Boots that the Twitter conversation about the film was sparse and surprisingly negative. In response, the studio created a new TV ad campaign that was well received. The movie was a hit, and the Twitter mention volumes and positive sentiment increased significantly. That was the first time I understood the power of social sentiment analysis. You can change the social conversation if you do really good advertising.
In the future, such analysis has the the potential for utterly transforming the way the industry rates TV shows. Today, we use the Nielsen rating system to evaluate the popularity of TV shows as the basis for setting the prices advertisers pay for TV ad placements. It’s a crude instrument. The system simply measures how many of the 25,000 participating households have their TVs tuned to particular channels at 15 minute intervals.
But what if we added social sentiment to the mix? Marketers would know how millions of people were reacting to their programming in near real time. Those insights could help them decide how much to pay for advertising slots and how to appeal to viewers in their ads. In addition, the intelligence they pick up could inform the way they develop programming or even lead them to change a character or a plot direction.
Today, social sentiment analysis is as much an art as it is a science, which is fun for people like me. But as the tools improve and marketers learn to use them more effectively I believe we’ll see a revolution in entertainment marketing. As social sentiment analytics matures, the best films and programming will be even more successful, and even the not-so-good stuff will find its audience. I wish I had some of these tech tools back in the 1970s and ’80s.
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