Data doesn't aid the art of storytelling

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A scene from NBC's live broadcast of "The Sound of Music."
A scene from NBC's live broadcast of "The Sound of Music."

Sometimes, smart decisions are made by gut instinct, without the benefit of data. NBC's decision to air a live broadcast of 'The Sound of Music' is one example.

NEW YORK — When it comes to creating the next hit TV show, data does not help the art of storytelling, according to a panel of studio and TV leaders at Advertising Week here.

Speaking Wednesday on a panel titled "Original Content Customers Will Love," Marc Juris, president of WE tv, explained that if content producers use data to help come up with a story idea, the idea will ultimately fail.

"There is a misconception that because technology makes many things more efficient, we assume that it makes everything more efficient," he said, "but it does not help with the art of storytelling in anyway.

"That takes time and talent, which is in short supply."

Juris used the example of the NBC's live "Sound of Music," which scored high ratings in the U.S., to illustrate his point. "No data in the world would have supported that show, but it clicked. The data is always the past and never talks to the future.

"It was a big risk that paid off," he added.

Beth Hoppe, programming chief for PBS, which airs the hit TV drama Downton Abbey, said the broadcaster doesn't chase content based on data or a formula. "We want to be the smartest on TV, and at the end of the day you have to trust your gut and instinct," she said.

Michele Ganeles, president of Comedy Central, said the comedy broadcaster also doesn't use data to develop content.

"The more data we have, the more we know our audience better," Ganeles said. "That won't help us predict what will be a hit, but it will help us connect our advertisers with our audience better."

Ganeles said Comedy Central is seeing a decline in linear TV viewing and is using data to find its viewers and serve them content whenever they want, on whatever platform they want.

She said that this is due to the fact that comedy does very well on digital because it travels well. For this reason the broadcaster is distributing shorter clips alongside its long-form content.

"Part of the challenge," Ganeles said, "is how we pay content creators, monetize this content and take advertisers along for the ride."