When we look back on 2020, Hollywood will probably think of it as a pivotal time for the data produced by such things as stream-ing entertainment and social media but data analysts and strategists have been working with talent agencies for years to uncover powerful opportunities for their clients.

Strategists can use data to un­­earth potential indexing (Your fan base also tends to use financial services and love dogs? Who knew?!) that could lead to endorsement deals, product development or decisions about casting or projects. They can also tell you where the pastures might not be as green.

“There’s been an absolute maturation process in the breadth and depth of data available to agencies such as ours as well as the entertainment industry writ large,” says Keith Friedenberg, chief an­alytics officer for Endeavor, and an analytics veteran with more than three decades of experience. “It’s been a massive evolution and escalation in the quality and the vast array of metrics you can look at and the different KPIs [key performance indicator] you can assess. It’s very empowering, I think, to us as an agency and ultimately to the objectives of our clients that there’s a much more extensive toolkit to lean into to derive these stories.”

While most rely on many of the outside analytics partners you’d expect, they may also have internal information-gathering processes and the way the put the data together is highly proprietary and fiercely guarded. As you’d expect, the distinct nuggets of data that can be obtained from social media can be used to tweak and refine a celebrity’s brand, right down to the thumbnail.

“We apply the same math with our analytics that Nielsen ratings are basically helping accumulate over time,” says Chris Sawtelle, head of digital ventures for ICM Partners. “We have conversations with platforms on a regular basis about consumption so we know the drop-off rate. I can go into the data for a client and go, ‘Oh, wow, you did a food concept, or you did a concept around health and fitness and we had a 75% retention through a 15-minute video.’ So, people basically watched about 10 minutes of the video before tuning out. ‘Then you did a concept around dogs on your last video, we only had people watch for two minutes before they tuned out.’ Well, maybe our audience doesn’t care dogs. We’re also able to really put under a microscope how did we handle our marketing on this one. Maybe it wasn’t the topic. We run it through the wringer and then we try it again and if it doesn’t work again then we don’t make that video.”
Social media provides dozens of metrics but not all of them. Agencies use data science to develop an overall sense of how audiences view their clients.

“We’ve created — with our in-house technology team — a platform called CAA Intel and this platform pulls from anywhere from eight to a dozen different third-party resources,” says Rick Lucas, a CAA agent in its commercial endorsements group. “It synthesizes from all these different sources and tells you where your audience is and what they’re into. But also, here’s what they think of you and here’s your awareness level. There are traits like likability and trustworthiness. It’s a multitude of different things to get a better 360-degree view. So it can go as deep as to say you over-index with Ford or some car brand. And [the client] says, ‘You know, my first car was a Ford.’ So there’s a story there so can we call Ford and talk to them and maybe a partnership can be done.”

Lucas’ long list of clients include Mindy Kaling, Trevor Noah, Eva Chen and Leslie Jones.

Kendall Ostrow, head of client strategy for UTA IQ, has recently worked with Ali Wong, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Pratt and Pitbull, among others, to help them to use data to expand their audiences and discover new opportunities.

Ostrow is also a two-time Day­time Emmy nominee in the New Approaches – Daytime Entertain­ment category for her work on the social media channels for the “Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

“Every year we’re probably putting together decks and materials for more than 1,000 negotiations across every department of the agency,” says Ostrow. “We’re instrumental in client signings because we can uncover opportunities and areas of interest and exploration for those talents.”

Ostrow has developed UTA IQ’s Talent Discovery Initiative, which uses data to spot talent that’s having an impact upon contemporary culture. She also hosts a weekly webinar series called “Socially Relevant” that aims to help the agency’s staff and clients understand and utilize social media.

Data can also be a significant force for diversification and representation. In late 2020, CAA partnered with Parrot Analytics to create the CAA/Parrot Analytics Television Diversity Study, which showed that demand for diverse debuts in the top 100 doubled to surpass non-diverse titles for the first time in 2019.

The agency also partnered with Shift7 to take a deep dive on the correlation between women-led films and box office success. They found that female-led pics outperformed male-led movies at all budget levels.

“We want the conversation to be about [how] audiences are becoming more diverse and these are the kinds of stories that they’re gravitating to, and this is how we should think about making our creative decisions and ultimately have a critical eye to the impact we have through content across the board,” says Ruben Garcia, co-head of cultural business strategy for CAA.

Ostrow adds: “Data can be incredibly powerful in helping create more opportunities for diverse talent across entertainment. It is one of the most telling indicators of cultural relevance, which in turn drives studios’ decision-making on what talent to work with and what projects to purchase. For instance, it can prove to studios that an audience craves increased representation, such as through the online conversation, the social-media following of talent from diverse backgrounds, or the performance of previous projects that celebrate diversity.”

With all the third-party data providers and internal data synthesizing that can be done, there’s still definitely an art to reading the data and knowing when to trust the analysis. Great analysts comb the numbers to uncover any possible oversights and then there are those times when something might just not feel right.

“We might do a multi-country study for a particular artist and you might get the numbers out of a particular country and you think something isn’t right,” says Friedenberg. “It just doesn’t pass the sniff test. There’s a gut check here and then you dig a little bit deeper into the methodology and you do a little bit of an audit of what went down in that particular territory to discover that there was an actual group error in how the certain study went to field.”

Friedenberg gets to his refined insights by knowing his data providers and practicing a disciplined examination of the data.

“As an old-school analyst, not a number leaves our department that hasn’t been properly sourced. I do not believe in secret sauce analytics or smoke-and-mirror analytics. The narrative that comes out of it can be unique but, the underlying metrics, they are what they are.”