Do you remember the time when art was about art? Perhaps you remember the studio that had the lion in their logo? I think that the very same lion was also very active in an old TV series called Daktari (1966, CBS). They had on their logo ‘Ars Gratia Artis‘, although some refer to it as: Arse for the sake of the artists, which is not the same thing.
It means art for art’s sake and that ideology came under assault by the Business Insider through Netflix last year (2 days ago), or did it? The article (at https://amp.businessinsider.com/netflix-bird-box-sparks-debate-over-data-in-hollywood-2018-12) gives a very different light on Hollywood. We initially get: “Netflix said its original movie “Bird Box,” starring Sandra Bullock, was viewed by 45 million accounts in its first seven days on the streaming service, a record for the company“, which is a good achievement, considering that there are 137 million subscribers, we get the setting that 30% watched it, something that should be regarded as a huge success. Yet Business Insider does not think so, it goes on with the quote: “Though Netflix revealed the huge number, it didn’t give specifics. How many of those 45 million watched the movie from beginning to end? What were the demographics of the viewers? Those are the types of stats that movie studios and TV networks release about their content“. Here we have a larger issue; those in the cinema, with rare exceptions will sit out the movie in the cinema, in the digital world we get to consider a new stage: how many watch it completely? Just like Google ads on YouTube where the first 5 seconds is ‘free’, or better stated might not be a viewer, and after 5 seconds the person can skip, so that is not a viewer either, these metrics now count towards the greater need to understand the Netflix viewer, because those who start the movie are optionally not actual viewers, so setting the purchase stage towards those metrics will be the downfall of Netflix soon enough, yet in all this, the viewer, including me, we are all new to the Netflix, Stan and other parts, so we get to switch products, like we switch channels and as such, finding what we like is going to be important to Netflix et al. Also, multiple watching might imply that, or another person at the house was watching, or perhaps I merely nodded off after 24.3 minutes only to realise that a comfy chair and warm weather implies that watching is a lot more challenging? In all this metrics, especially top line metrics with demographics will be increasingly important to all these digital providers. Even as we see: “That 45 million number has not been verified by a third-party measurement company in the way TV ratings and box-office results generally are“, we do not realise that for the most, cinemas have an utter lack of these metrics (other than amount of tickets sold, tickets per purchase and date of purchase), so even as Digital channels have more granularity (a lot more), we can debate and even question these metrics on a few levels. I once heard that a friend has his father drop by every weekend to use his Netflix account and keep up on TV series whilst the sunshine lad was at the beach entertaining his tan and swimming ability, so when he got home, he shared a meal with dad and they talk and watched a little more Netflix. So that implies that for that day the metrics are no longer matching the demographics, merely the member graphics, which again is not the same, not even close.
So when we look back at bird box, we see the interesting quote: “she believes that the latest Netflix news is nothing but a publicity stunt and that Netflix’s lack of transparency about data hurts filmmakers“, which is when the wheels leave the carriage in every direction. If movies are about art, why would data transparency be important? How is a vision or art an indication of data requirement? I get the statement, I get the implied stage where the TV industry is now mimicking Ubisoft when they started claiming another Assassins Creed every year. The implied part is forgotten as soon as you read it, but the danger is there. Those makers who rely on data to form the next hit will never ever get one. You see, the lesson that Ubisoft has been learning the hard way is that a game that appeals to everyone is a game that appeals to no one. The sales figures show that flaw, the ratings of games that at $50 million should have been 90% or better get nowhere beyond the 65%-85%, so basically a products that gets a little more than break even, it is a business model that theoretically works, but it will never produce any diamonds. The 78%-81% for Far Cry 5 is a direct indicator of that, some gave it as little as a 60% rating, a total change from the 90% that AC Origin deserved and that supports my thoughts there.
Yet in TV and movies on digital format we see another shift, we see the lack of materials making the makers a little desperate for choices. Even as we see Bird Box as a massive win, we see that choices are now coming at a much steeper investment curve, making the game a lot more dangerous, and it is pushing these analysts towards the metrics of watchers and optional watchers giving them a dangerous step towards anticipated interest versus real interest. Netflix is the most visible player here, but they are not alone. Stan, Foxtel, Canal Plus and a few others will face their own demons. Disney is the safest player for now as they have the best established brand on any medium, yet over time they too need to face the choices of data use available.
For me this data war is important in other ways too, as we see Bird Box and a title like the Blair Witch project in one box of choices, we see the link of mass media towards creating an inflated hype, yet when we look in another direction we realise that gems like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina would lose their footing into getting a place in creating and release. Sabrina is as I personally see it the true approach to ‘Ars Gratia Artis‘, the moment that data takes over, things will fall apart. It is not the data itself, it is the fact that in the first the data is mostly non-confirmed (member versus actual viewer), anticipated issues on re-watching versus actual reason of re-watching and that list goes on, the inability to properly vet data for a whole league of reasons will diminish the playfield and the Ubisoft stage takes over from the actual artistic stage, it could optionally kill a series like Sabrina overnight and will kill a whole range of other series in the same way in their first seasons too. There is other evidence too, the series Lucifer that got canned in one place, got taken up by Netflix and the fans win, in this case Netflix wins too and they deserve to win, but we need to realise that Lucifer is not unlike Star Trek, a series that initially got canned because the executives did not comprehend their fans (the watchers). We can add Firefly, Dollhouse and several other series to that list. I believe that Dollhouse was going towards the place that Westworld is moving on to and that is great, the stories are still accepted and they evolve for the viewing acceptance and appreciation levels and rightfully so, yet how many TV series were lost to us for the same reason? You see, I believe that the wrong approach to data and the non-comprehension (or wrongful use in dashboards) will make this a much larger issue soon enough, and guess what?
This will not be contained to the Hollywood world, the shift of data and dashboards will push into every realm that uses data soon thereafter. You might not think it now, but you all are part of this, it will affect you all soon enough. 5G is not merely a mobile platform, it is a data platform and we will personally see, feel and experience the impact of data. That impact is not theoretical, it is an actual impact. At Cornell University we saw the creation of a paper in March 2018 called ‘Load Balancing for 5G Ultra-Dense Networks using Device-to-Device Communications‘ by Hongliang Zhang, Lingyang Song, Ying Jun Zhang that gives us that to some degree directly. When we consider: “data traffic can be effectively offloaded from a congested small cell to other underutilized small cells by D2D communications. The problem is naturally formulated as a joint resource allocation and D2D routing problem that maximizes the system sum-rate. To efficiently solve the problem, we decouple the problem into a resource allocation subproblem and a D2D routing subproblem. The two subproblems are solved iteratively as a monotonic optimization problem and a complementary geometric programming problem, respectively. Simulation results show that the data sum-rate in the neighbouring small cells increases 20% on average by offloading the data traffic in the congested small cell to the neighbouring small cell base stations”
I am geting there the long way round, stick with me, it will soon make sense, as such, let’s look at this from another angle so that it makes a little more sense. Here I use a quote “We also know that the capacity (density) of current macrocellular 4G networks will continue to increase in the foreseeable future since there’s still spectrum available around the world that could be used or reused for mobile broadband“, this is a given, actually more than a given as both Cisco and Alcatel passed through the average barrier by 100%, as well over half a dozen carriers are on the average expectation, the other two crushed it by almost 100%, and that was 4G, the game changes in 5G (yes this is still about art).
Now consider that we are not set in metrics, my viewing pleasure never was, even as early as the late 70’s; that means that the metrics never fitted me and more importantly these metrics are failing a larger population to a much larger degree and it will increasingly fail those relying on them, no matter how good the story sounds. This part is important in a few ways. You see, from my point of view (always debatable whether it is correct), we see the flawed Ubisoft formula and consider that the choice fits 80% of all, this might be seen as a good thing. Yet in art the change is slow learned and even as with a video game the initial payment is done, we see a much larger stack of players going towards pre-owned games (for financial reasons). Now consider that in the Netflix et al world, it is not set into a $99 purchase, it is a $15 per month and everyone bailing after a few months will increase the financial dangers for players like Netflix (and others) as they have amassed a multi-billion dollar debt, whilst the people can leave at any time; even as leaving in the first year (or after the first free month) is not likely, especially at $15 a month, that same given part is not guaranteed after year one, so getting the right series up and running is a lot more important. Now that Netflix is no longer the one option and now that Disney Plus is gaining a global insertion, having the right data is increasingly important, we do get that, yet the Netflix data is lot more debatable than some think and this is where the problem starts. There are several indicators that the data is not that great or that complete. Unless Netflix is gathering data incorrectly (read: ethically immoral), which is not a given and there is no indication that this is happening, we have the direct issue with valid data versus non validated data and there is a much larger hiatus in play.
And now we get to the producer Rebecca Green, now we get to look at the part that is important. (apart from her ludicrous believe that Netflix data needs to be more transparent), we need to look at: “My goal is to create original content for wide audiences, but how do I cater to an audience if I do not know what they are turning in to watch?” she said. “‘It Follows’ has been on Netflix for two years, and I have no idea how many people have viewed the film. ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ has been on Amazon Prime for two years as well, and I have no idea how many people have viewed the film on that platform. Why share the stats for one film but not the others, aside from wanting to create buzz?“, right next to “Netflix needs to be more transparent about the performance of its titles so that people can better contextualize the data and to help more of these types of movies get made“. I Personally believe that an adaptation from Forest Gump is needed: “Stupid is as Ubisoft does!“.
She is implying that she is out to make sure that she will not create a failure, and as such, she is unlikely to ever help create a true blockbuster. That is how I personally see it and so far my view has been supported with the results by Ubisoft several times over, so I feel decently confident on my view. She needs the right dreamers, the ones that dream the new stuff, not data driven, but vision driven. I dreamt the sequel to Mass Effect Andromeda two nights ago and it is still unsettling me today, I hope I never dream in that direction again, this does not imply a success, but it could potentially show to be a blockbuster to a lot of people, enough to take the Nexus for another spin if the investors are willing to take a (likely huge) risk. It is not merely the risk, the state that if they go all in that they are looking at optional sales of 6-8 million copies. That would be the stage where the game gets to approach the billion dollar mark and I am trying to remain conservative there. You see, it is not about the game, it is about offering something not done in gaming ever before, especially in console gaming. So there is the space to truly shift the field onto another track, a high speed track, but to get vested in that, it will cost the makers to get the right software engineers hat can give view to vision and that is a much larger call than some might think. I did a similar exercise with Elder Scrolls VI (not the one that is being made). It was not about a new story, it was about where can we push the story to and more important, how can we instill additional value, for me that has always been the ability to replay a game, not merely watch an interactive story with a few variables. What if we could evolve the game not merely in size, but in the ability to give a game 100+ hours of challenge and fun? In my mind, I gave that setting a whirl with Elder Scrolls VI: Resurrection by changing the nature of the challenge and by adding the openness of the game. Oblivion had done a terrific job initially, but I learned that in the 4th play through that I went for the anticipated goals too fast, I wanted a change that gave the challenge , but removed grinding to a larger degree (removing grinding 100% in an RPG is pretty much impossible). It is done not by adding more repetitive challenges, but by limiting options. You see, in my view a person cannot join all guilds, they can be members of some (until completed), so mages will auto decline Necromancers, thieves will reject assassins and fighters will not allow for thieves or assassins to enter the guild, so you can do all, but not all at the same time giving an additional layer to the gameplay, because at a later stage one guild will be a lot more challenging than before. Having a long term quest, one that goes on over time, even as you are working other challenges is also a path to set the stage and a third one is seen in choice. In my view The shrines were no more, the [main quest challenge] had undone something and we get to choose whether we fix that, and also having to decide what goes where, or continue on the path Tamriel was on, in that stage I have set 5 main quest lines in a different path, optionally giving a severe different view to how Tamriel continues as a nation, whether the initial main quest is resolved one way or another, that is the shape of close to 50-100 hours of additional playtime, will people like that? What happens when you really give the option of choice a new dimension?
I do not think that those bragging on how they cleared Skyrim in 2 hours will like it, but I am not making it for those few, I thought up ES-Resurrection for those who loved travelling in Skyrim (and beyond), those who create additional content and loved the time they had in Skyrim, the true RPG players that want to see it all. That same situation exists on any RPG (read: Mass Effect) and those value art and the creation of art by software engineers and graphical artists, gamers will bend over backwards buying such a game the very moment it arrives.
This is the same for movies and TV series, You merely have to watch fans going nuts on social media regarding Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to see my point proven; in addition, we saw a mere 3 weeks ago: “‘Firefly’ Fans Are Upset That Trending Hashtag Isn’t About the Show Being Revived“, when we see such impacts, we know that something is missed and some of these metrics will merely increase the amount missed by series makers (read: initial funders) and producers (read: investors). In this it is important to see the view of Robert Bianco (USA Today) with: “that Joss Whedon’s most devoted fans will debate and embrace, and a mass audience just won’t get“, that view is fair enough and the makers invest in the series, so as we see that there was a drop of 50% in viewers, it made sense to them not continue, yet a lot of the story was lost in the end. Could this have been prevented if data drove the choices of writing? I do not believe that to be the case, if anything, when we look at the Netflix setting, data would have made it worse; the series might have fallen over quicker. That is the setting for Rebecca Green (as I personally saw it). She might adhere to data transparency, yet there we see the most likely failure to be a choice made on non-validated data making matters worse, shying actual fans away because of adherence to the masses, which in my personal view makes matters worse, not better. Consider that 5 series with an 80% score, what are the chances that overlapping groups of people that end up no liking 2+ series released? How many members will that cost them in the months 13 and onward? In a stage where they invest $8 billion, how many losses will that ensue?
In all this (a very personal view) when we stop adhering to art for the sake of art, we see the path of data driven art and it will be nothing more than mere marketing of brand, viewers created through awareness, a dangerous setting in any form of art, video games have proven that; how long do you think it will take for people to switch away from 45 minute branding shows? How quickly will we switch to another provider? I believe that this stage will be reached sooner than we think. We might still adore and worship Game of Thrones, yet what will happen in season 8? Will it keep us on the edge? I am not handing the same values to GoT as we have had 7 seasons of GoT already, and a following will continue the story for now; more important at what point will see that there is a stage for season 10? Even if season 8 flops, there will be a drive to end the story lines at this point handing the need for a season 9 at the beginning of season 8, yet for new series that premise does not exist, so how can a series survive when it becomes data driven in a stage where the quality of data is debatable to a much larger degree at the very least.
This is not in the same range as the TV series were, it seems that the new digital series are effectively marketing driven and that might depend on data, but in all that, how many people would have given the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a proper vetting in the initial hours? As the choice of streaming digital TV companies’ increases the timespan given to vet series changes as well. That is where my reference of that 4G paper comes into play. The stage of “Using higher modulations is a proven, reliable, and well-understood method to increase capacity in a given communication channel, but it has clear limits“, you see for people it is not bandwidth, it is time, yet the equation is basically the same, we have a finite 24 hours, minus 6-8 hours of sleep, minus time for food, hygiene, travel and work. Time is an absolute here and many forget that part; it is equally an issue in gaming. That part is even more so an issue as the digital age is trying to get attention from gamers (and vice versa) in the same way, more than you think. Marketing, TV marketeers and investors are trying to create hype’s anyway that they can and it gives an additional increase, but the personal impact is spread all over the board, so these people are trying to get towards data driven solutions forgetting about art to the larger degree and in that way losing an audience to a much larger degree than they could fathom. that is hard to prove in any direction, yet I feel that (when we translate this to movies), my part is proven by Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal with: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; It’s as if everyone had set out to make the best Spider-Man movie ever, which is exactly what they’ve done“, the mere stage of a movie, an animated movie that is showing to be a comic book that has been close to truly been brought to life, I personally hope that Stan Lee had been able to see the final result whilst he was still alive (he might have done that), the fact that his visionary view on comic books took on a life of its own, data would never have gotten us there, it required art to get there, the fact that Channel 18 gave the people: “This may be the first Spider-Man feature to qualify as a great New York movie, drawn from the life of the city rather than outdated stereotypes“, I personally believe that this was achieved with art, not through data, or data as a mere assistant, not a driver.
We might think of the MGM lion as a cliché, but their slogan is still a driving force in entertainment and arts, it will most likely survive the data farmers for at least two generation, it is only when AI evolves through insight leading to wisdom that we will see a 90% appreciation level through data on arts, I doubt I will live that long, but part of me hopes to see that day where the quantum computer is asked what the state of the cloud is and it answers with an image of a Cumulus or a Cirrostratus with a defined point of arrival. It is my personal believe that people like producer Rebecca Green will always have a place in Hollywood, yet they will never become the Whedon’s, the Howard’s or the Russo’s, they got there by artistic vision, yet that too remains the issue of debate, how will the producers and directors see eye to eye on art versus data? It is something we will see a lot more in 2019, as it will drive the digital providers, as well as their content makers to a much larger degree than ever before.