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Alibaba Using Big Data To Create Films

The Chinese internet giant is adopting open data for film making

15Jun

We all know that big data and entertainment are intrinsically linked. We have seen it used effectively on Netflix to suggest to you which shows you will like and even helping to make new programming. It has also been used to some extent by many movie studios in the US to help inform which films to create, although going on recent trends it seems to be 'make a sequel'. Generally, it has been companies utilizing their own data to create films for themselves that could potentially see them make more money.

However, Alibaba, the Chinese behemoth, is changing this and sharing their data with a number of film makers to help create more profitable films at the box office.

The internet giant announced the move on June 12 and discussed how they would be partnering with 13 Chinese and Hong Kong film studios including Sun Entertainment and Filmko Pictures, Phoenix Legend Films and Giant Pictures. The idea behind the move is to give them considerably more information about their films' reactions based on more than simple box office sales.

This move has come from the company's film arm, Alibaba Pictures Group. They are attempting to create a funding platform for small and medium film companies and will be taking a high-tech approach to this by providing data as well as funding to help the studios create films that are far more likely to create future wealth.

Zhang Qiang, CEO of Alibaba Pictures, has discussed why the importance of data in the Chinese film industry has increased - 'With digital strategies, we have managed to change the purchasing habits of moviegoers... Ticket purchasing habits play a critical part in the movie industry, and online-to-offline ticketing will be the mainstream way of purchasing tickets.'

This move to an increasingly online purchasing pattern has meant that companies like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, who all have online ticketing portals, has created considerable amounts of data around viewers' habits. With semi-open access to this data, it can help with the marketing, casting, and even basic storyline of films.

We have seen that when companies use data to create films for specific markets, it can have a huge impact. Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction, for instance, used data to make the film more appealing to Chinese audiences. It paid off, becoming the first film to break the $300 million box office mark in the country, despite almost universally poor reviews, with a shocking 18/100 on Rotten Tomatoes.

Through opening up the necessary data to film makers, Alibaba is hoping that they can emulate the success (at the box office at least) of this film, which in turn means increased revenue as more people book their tickets through their online portals. As films from these studios become more successful and the experiment is shown to work, more studios will then want to get onboard and the cycle continues for the internet giant.

It is a move that could Western markets could soon seek to emulate, but at present it doesn't necessarily seem like particularly good value. As the portals used to buy tickets in western markets are generally owned by the cinemas showing the films, it doesn't necessarily make sense as their competitors are just as likely to get the same films and studios are unlikely to choose a single chain deal for data alone.

Added to this is that online ticket sales still represent less than 20% of total movie ticket sales in the US, compared to around 63% in China. It means that Chinese online ticket platforms have considerably more data on a much wider demographic of movie goers compared to western markets, therefore the data available to work from will be far more accurate.

Alibaba has taken an impressively progressive view of how to use their data and it is likely to have a significant impact on their business. In the future, western film studios should look at the same model. Given how easy it is for a box office flop to topple a major studio (Cutthroat Island, anyone?), it is probably necessary. 

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