HITS Fall: Anticipate Industry Data Needs, Says Variety Business Intelligence Research Chief

For 20 years now, Variety Business Intelligence (VBI) — the data licensing and business solutions arm of Variety Media — has been providing data and desktop solutions in the media and entertainment space. And one of the main lessons Carolyn Finger, SVP and head of research, has learned during her time with VBI is this: the data needs for the industry can and will change.

“Don’t be afraid to get there first,” she said, speaking Oct. 3 during the breakout presentation “Data Licensing and Business Solutions from the Entertainment Authority” at HITS Fall. “Always listen to your clients. If you’re solving their problems, you’re solving your own problems because very few use cases are unique.”

Cases in point: In 2001, VBI became the first to syndicate a report for U.S. content that was being marketed overseas. And in 2007 VBI began tracking the then-nascent digital content space, a move that was laughed off by some, she said. And this year VBI began incorporating the Entertainment ID Registry (EIDR) unique project identifiers, for easier data mapping.

“Don’t assume that you know everything about how your product and your data is going to be used, because we get calls every day that are surprising about how people are using it,” Finger said.

More than 4.2 million credits are in the VBI system, tracking 1.3 million people, with 75,000 employee listings and 32,000 company profiles. Variety Insight — VBI’s research application for desktop and mobile devices — leverages 90-plus years of historical film, TV and streaming series, comprehensively across seven territories around the world. Today, VBI services approximately 750 media and entertainment companies.

Variety Insight was “designed for those clients that aren’t at a point where they’re ready to license data and pull data into their own systems,” said VBI president Mark Hoebich, a model that has allowed more than one client get ahead of the game. Netflix has long looked to VBI for data for the U.S., U.K. and Canada, but last year approached VBI to widen its scope globally, adding Brazil, India, Japan and South Korea. VBI helped Netflix ID the talent and companies behind the top content for those regions.

“It’s been a real education for us,” Finger added, noting that challenges encountered when VBI widened its scope internationally included the fact that Korean names might have 10 different English translations.

Meanwhile, WarnerMedia wanted an analysis of gender and ethnic inclusion around all its content two years ago, Hoebich said, a “huge undertaking” and one that, just a year later, had other studios asking for similar data undertakings. “There were a lot of interesting takeaways,” he said, adding his company is looking into the feasibility of doing it on an annual basis.

Overall, when it comes to data, accuracy, consistency and formatting are all important, Finger added. Application program interfaces (APIs), meanwhile, “are great, but not so great when they’re not well-documented. So that’s been a huge priority for us over the past couple of years.”

HITS Fall was presented by Entertainment Partners, with sponsorship by Genpact, VBI, edgescan, LiveTiles, MarkLogic, EIDR, Signiant, Cinelytic, Microsoft Azure, Richey May Technology Solutions and Comcast Technology Solutions.

The event was produced by the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) and the Hollywood IT Society (HITS), in association with Women in Technology: Hollywood (WiTH); the Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA); and the Smart Content Council.

Click here to download audio of the presentation. Click here to download the presentation slide deck.