Brett Danaher’s passion for data analytics starts with academic curiosity. That’s important because when he started his research more than a decade ago, he was pioneering systems and collecting data sets without knowing exactly how they might be applied.
These days, he’s building bridges from research to industry application. In a world full of burgeoning digital content, film studios and other entertainment companies now have epic plans for the kind of insights Danaher can provide.
“Even 10 years ago, decisions in entertainment were guided by intuition and gut feel,” says Danaher, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics and management science at Chapman University. “Now analytics and data are driving decisions of distribution, marketing, promotion and pricing.”
One of Danaher’s first consulting clients and research partners was EMI Music, and the experience taught him a lot about the kind of information entertainment companies crave – principally how to price and distribute digital content.
“Using the results of our work, essentially we pushed a button and changed a bunch of prices based on things like genre and popularity,” Danaher says. “Within a week, you could see (EMI’s) revenue line rise. It was clearly a success, and that led to more work.”
Over time, Danaher and others helped the industry embrace analytics, and he added clients like Spotify, NBC Universal and BBC Studios. Along the way, he has learned what research findings he can publish to advance academic understanding and what he has to protect as proprietary information.
To continue strengthening the connection between academics and industry, twice each year Danaher organizes conferences in Los Angeles and the U.K., bringing together a range of thought leaders. For the past four years, Chapman has sponsored the Entertainment Analytics Conference.
“It’s a small community, but these firms have a lot of the same problems, and they’re tackling them in their own silos,” Danaher says. “The idea of this conference is to get a small, able group into a room with a good set of rules, and maybe some of the barriers will come down. That’s what we’ve seen happen.”
As Danaher continues to push forward with tools and learning in a fast-evolving field, he is also helping to launch careers. Some of the Chapman interns and research assistants who work with him on projects go on to get jobs with analytics teams at companies such as Disney and Paramount.
Those Chapman students get rigorous training in business analytics courses in Argyros School of Business and Economics as well the data science program in Schmid College of Science and Technology. As they prepare for careers, the students can expect the field of entertainment analytics to require new and demanding skills in econometrics, machine learning, deep learning and predictive analytics.
While industry expectations are growing, so are opportunities, including in realms of creative decision-making, Danaher says. In the future, will we see robots writing scripts and hit songs?
“I believe the type of work my colleagues and I do shouldn’t put constraints on the creative playground,” he says. “But I do want to put data in front of you and let you decide what to do with it. Tell me the questions you have about audiences, and I can use large data sets and algorithms to parse information so we can find the answers. I get students from Dodge College in my classes, and they seem open to that.”