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Variety Innovate Summit Tackles Hollywood’s New World Order

The intersection of entertainment and technology will be the focus of Variety’s Innovate Summit: AI and Data Science in Media on Dec. 5 at the Jeremy in West Hollywood. The event is presented by PwC.

The summit will feature 50-plus speakers exploring how AI and advancing analytics are impacting marketing, storytelling, content curation and audience engagement and other trends at the cutting edge of entertainment.

The topics are endlessly fascinating – and confounding – for industryites because as much as people want to combine science and showbiz, they know the two can make for strange bedfellows, especially when one tries to use data to engineer creativity.

“If you go and take a very traditional data-science approach to the industry, you might run into brick walls that you have almost created by your own approach,” says Matthew Marolda, president of applied analytics at WarnerMedia, who’ll be giving a fireside chat at the summit. “You’re operating in a space where, unlike in other analytic environments, you have to use the information and make your best guess.

Doing a lot of testing is difficult. That ambiguity is a fascinating, challenging aspect of it, and it’s still a nascent undertaking.”

In recent years, one of the most talked about big-picture trends has been the increasingly rapid rate of change in the industry, and it is reflected in the shift in focus from last year’s inaugural Innovate Summit. This year, there will be less emphasis on virtual reality (VR), which has not yet lived up to its hype as the next great entertainment tech sensation.

The event will kick off with a conversation with former DreamWorks co-founder and CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and ex- Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO and ex-California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, founder/chairman and CEO, respectively, of Quibi, a short-form mobile video platform expected to have its public launch late next year.

Quibi is not Katzenberg’s first foray into short-form video. As head of DreamWorks Animation, he engineered the $33 million acquisition of AwesomenessTV, a millennial and Gen Z-focused production company and YouTube channel that helped pioneer the practice of making projects around digital influencers who built fan followings on social platforms.

Quibi is far from a safe bet. While short-form content has continued to thrive on YouTube, following a surge of dot-com bubble-esque enthusiasm in the mid-2010s, a series of mobile-centric platforms dedicated to premium short-form content have died ugly deaths (e.g., Verizon’s Go90 and Comcast’s Watchable) after burning through tens of millions of dollars. But Katzenberg is undeterred.

“What is different about Quibi is that we are bringing the kind of high-quality production and talent that Hollywood is famous for and delivering it to the mobile device in a way that nobody has ever done before,” says Katzenberg, who in 2017 became co-founder and managing partner of WndrCo, a startup dedicated to investing in new consumer technologies that incubated Quibi. “That means not only a new format of top broadcast, cable and SVOD production-quality content delivered in bite-sized, 10-minute-or-less chapters, but also content that is completely optimized for mobile viewing in every way – from lighting and sound to cinematography.”

“Doing a lot of testing is difficult. That ambiguity is a fascinating, challenging aspect of it, and it’s still a nascent undertaking.”
Matthew Marolda

Just as enthusiasm for premium short-form has declined in recent years, so have hopes that big data can have a major role in crafting content. In his previous post at Legendary Entertainment, Marolda crunched data to help with casting decisions, but at WarnerMedia he’s focused on using analytics to refine the company’s marketing efforts.

For a Warner Bros. movie such as “Aquaman,” “you’d want to target people who have expressed an interest in DC Comics,” explains Marolda, who characterizes traditional Hollywood marketing efforts as “spray and pray.” “We may also find that they have a shared interest in certain sports, comedians or brands, and we use the analytics to uncover those and target at that level. Then the last tier is the demographic level, [which] is different clusters of gender, age and, occasionally, ethnicity. So the first tier is fairly precise, the middle tier has a nice targeted approach informed by analytics, and the last one you’re using so you get the scale you need to launch the TV show or movie.”

Attendees will be able to take a deep dive on the subject at Innovate Summit panels, which will include the sessions Behavioral Science to Understand Movie-Goers, Chief Data and Analytics Officer Roundtable, and Marketing and the New Data World Order.

“This is such an amazing time, when we are seeing incredible innovation and disruption in every aspect of Hollywood, so I can’t wait to see what all of the speakers have to say,” Whitman says.

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