June 5, 2023

Solving Equation of a Hit Film Script, With Data

LOS ANGELES — Forget zombies. The data crunchers are invading Hollywood.

The same kind of numbers analysis that has reshaped areas like politics and online marketing is increasingly being used by the entertainment industry.

Netflix tells customers what to rent based on algorithms that analyze previous selections, Pandora does the same with music, and studios have started using Facebook “likes” and online trailer views to mold advertising and even films.

Now, the slicing and dicing is seeping into one of the last corners of Hollywood where creativity and old-fashioned instinct still hold sway: the screenplay.

A chain-smoking former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese — “the reigning mad scientist of Hollywood,” in the words of one studio customer — has started to aggressively pitch a service he calls script evaluation. For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company, Worldwide Motion Picture Group, also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers. What do you like? What should be changed?

“Demons in horror movies can target people or be summoned,” Mr. Bruzzese said in a gravelly voice, by way of example. “If it’s a targeting demon, you are likely to have much higher opening-weekend sales than if it’s summoned. So get rid of that Ouija Board scene.”

Bowling scenes tend to pop up in films that fizzle, Mr. Bruzzese, 39, continued. Therefore it is statistically unwise to include one in your script. “A cursed superhero never sells as well as a guardian superhero,” one like Superman who acts as a protector, he added.

His recommendations, delivered in a 20- to 30-page report, might range from minor tightening to substantial rewrites: more people would relate to this character if she had a sympathetic sidekick, for instance.

Script “doctors,” as Hollywood refers to writing consultants, have long worked quietly on movie assembly lines. But many top screenwriters — the kind who attain exalted status in the industry, even if they remain largely unknown to the multiplex masses — reject Mr. Bruzzese’s statistical intrusion into their craft.

“This is my worst nightmare” said Ol Parker, a writer whose film credits include “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” “It’s the enemy of creativity, nothing more than an attempt to mimic that which has worked before. It can only result in an increasingly bland homogenization, a pell-mell rush for the middle of the road.”

Mr. Parker drew a breath. “Look, I’d take a suggestion from my grandmother if I thought it would improve a film I was writing,” he said. “But this feels like the studio would listen to my grandmother before me, and that is terrifying.”

But a lot of producers, studio executives and major film financiers disagree. Already they have quietly hired Mr. Bruzzese’s company to analyze about 100 scripts, including an early treatment for “Oz the Great and Powerful,” which has taken in $484.8 million worldwide.

Mr. Bruzzese (pronounced brew-ZEZ-ee), who is one of a very few if not the only entrepreneur to use this form of script analysis, is plotting to take it to Broadway and television now that he has traction in movies.

“It takes a lot of the risk out of what I do,” said Scott Steindorff, a producer who used Mr. Bruzzese to evaluate the script for “The Lincoln Lawyer,” a hit 2011 crime drama. “Everyone is going to be doing this soon.” Mr. Steindorff added, “The only people who are resistant are the writers: ‘I’m making art, I can’t possibly do this.’ ”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/06/business/media/solving-equation-of-a-hit-film-script-with-data.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: Digital Notes: Measuring Growth in Dollars and Page Views

The popularity of satellite and Internet radio is starting to lead to larger royalty checks for musicians.

Digital Notes

Daily updates on the business of digital music.

SoundExchange, the organization that collects royalties from these services, said on Thursday that it paid $462 million to performers and record companies last year, up 58 percent from 2011. Not long ago, SoundExchange’s payments were considered minimal by most musicians, but they have been growing quickly. In June, the organization announced that it had paid $1 billion in royalties since its founding in 2000.

These payments represent a royalty not otherwise available to most artists. By law, satellite and Internet radio services must pay the performers and copyright holders of a recording, in addition to songwriters and publishers; terrestrial broadcasters pay only the publishing side. (SoundExchange does not handle royalties for downloads, nor for the on-demand streams of companies like Spotify and Rhapsody.)

The growth of services like Pandora and Sirius XM Radio has been the driving force behind the increased royalties. Pandora now has 67 million listeners each month — a third more than it had a year ago — and Sirius XM now has nearly 24 million paying subscribers. But the rate these companies pay has been in dispute lately.

Pandora backed a bill in Congress last fall that could have lowered its rates; it was aggressively opposed by music industry groups, including SoundExchange, and the bill expired at the end of the year. In court hearings last year, Sirius pushed for lower rates; its rates were increased through 2017, but not as much as SoundExchange had wanted.

SoundExchange’s royalties are growing, but they still represent a fraction of the revenue from recorded music, which, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, was just over $7 billion in 2011.

Tracking the Industry, in Part: Next Big Sound, a company that measures the social activity surrounding online music, this week offered another encouraging glimpse of the market. In its year-end report, it said it measured 93.8 billion streams of songs last year, up 45 percent from 2011. Combing through artist Facebook accounts, Twitter feeds and other sources, it found find 17.1 billion profile views and 5.7 billion “new fans” of music.

Most of the numbers in the report — YouTube and Vevo views, Wikipedia page views — point upward. Among the sites Next Big Sound tracks, the biggest gainer was SoundCloud, which lets musicians, labels and fans upload tracks that can be streamed or embedded on social sites like Tumblr. According to Next Big Sound, its fan activity tripled last year. (Last month, SoundCloud said it had 180 million users around the world.)

It also found that while independent acts tend to do very well on Facebook, Twitter and other sites (especially SoundCloud), that shrinks on Vevo and YouTube; Vevo is owned by Universal and Sony Music, and many independent labels do not have licensing deals with it.

But like the SoundExchange numbers, Next Big Sound’s report covers only a certain chunk of the overall market. It excludes data from Pandora, Spotify, iTunes and other services whose listening data is not public, as well as visits to artists’ own Web sites.

Ben Sisario writes about the music industry. Follow @sisario on Twitter.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/digital-notes-measuring-growth-in-dollars-and-page-views/?partner=rss&emc=rss

App Smart: Some New Little Treasures for the iPhone

FLIPBOARD For the last year, iPhone users could only watch as iPad owners used Flipboard to deliver beautified versions of Facebook, Twitter and other graphically challenged online services. Earlier this month, though, Flipboard delivered a long-awaited free iPhone version, which has quelled any doubts that it would live up to the standard of the big-screen version. Flipboard is fast, slick and smart. The Twitter app’s scrolling feature may be faster, but I find myself clicking through to more information about Twitter posts when I view them on Flipboard, and it’s great to flip quickly to other feeds in the same app.

BAND OF THE DAY If you live in a radio wasteland and you don’t want to pay a lot to Slacker and Pandora to hear new music without ads, Band of the Day (free) is a great choice. The app daily features five songs from a new band, along with artist bios, videos and reviews. You can listen to each song five times, and if you don’t love one day’s selection you can scan backward through the calendar to find others you missed or tune into the day’s mix tape.

TIGER WOODS: MY SWING This is the year’s best entry for athletic types. This app isn’t even for avid golfers as much as it’s suited to beginners. As long as you know how to grip a club and you understand the basic elements of a golf stroke, My Swing ($5) can help you avoid a hack-fest on your next trip around a course. After you use the device to record your swing, the software overlays graphics onto the video to show how well your stroke conforms to the specifications of Mr. Woods. His tutorials, though brief, are highly useful.

SKYVIEW This is the new leader among iPhone astronomy apps — at least for the money. SkyView ($2) features a dead simple interface with just the right amount of cool features to keep casual stargazers enthralled. Point your phone at the sky, and the app transforms the camera view into a labeled map of the heavens. The graphics are lovely, and you can click for more information on various planets and stars, or, with the sweep of a finger, learn when they will be in a particular spot in the sky. The free version is also good, but it offers just a glimpse of the paid version’s extended features.

GOOGLE TRANSLATE Google offered a gift to Apple owners this year when it released a slightly pared-down version of its stellar Translate app for Android. Like that version, the Google Translate for the iPhone (free) quickly translates your spoken phrases into text, and for 24 languages, Google Translate will speak the new phrase in a foreign tongue. The spoken-phrases-to-text feature works for 17 languages, so you can hand your phone back and forth for more extended conversations. To save on overseas data charges when Wi-Fi is not available, you can store translated phrases, like ones explaining to others how to use the app.

VIDRHYTHM This is ridiculously fun, foolproof software. VidRhythm (free) guides you through the process of recording a few sound and video samples, and then drops those fragments into one of roughly 15 music video templates. The random scrambling of your samples, set to rhythm, is a bit of musical and humor brilliance, and will appeal to people capable of laughing at themselves. The app includes pitch-correction technology, so the tonally challenged needn’t fear the results. You can export videos to Facebook or YouTube, or import original music and let VidRhythm twist your tunes.

DRAGON GO People who have an iPod Touch or older iPhone and are tired of hearing about Siri from iPhone 4S owners can find relief with this genius little app. Touch a button and tell Dragon Go! (free) what you need, and it scans the Web for results. Say “great sushi” or “great plumbers,” and it’ll suggest nearby restaurants and contractors. You can sort results quickly, so if you just want a Wikipedia entry or a YouTube video, a flick of the thumb will get you there. Dragon Go! won’t speak cute answers to your cute questions, but as a productivity tool, it’s a winner.

WUNDERLIST Awesome Note is in the iPhone App Hall of Fame for good reason, but it offers more features than many people need, and it costs $4. For a simple, elegant and free app that’ll help you build to-do lists and send reminders to all your devices, Wunderlist (free) is ideal. The app makes it easy to set up a task list and prioritize and organize items. The layout is clean and attractive, and the app has intelligent flourishes, including a feature that lets users add tasks through e-mail.

GARAGEBAND Apple’s desktop version of GarageBand has long been a standby for hobbyists and professionals, but the mobile version ($5) is better suited to the masses. Instead of clicking through a drum track or a bass line, you can tap on the device’s glass as if it were the real instrument. Tracks are easily built and tweaked, so you can peck away at a musical idea for months or sketch something in a matter of minutes. Using an external device like the Apogee Jam or the GuitarJack, guitarists can plug their instrument into the iPhone and add layers of stomp-box sound.

PHOTOSYNTH This extremely cool panorama technology from Microsoft is highly refined and a breeze to use. Stand in place and point the phone’s camera straight ahead, and Photosynth (free) snaps a picture. It then prompts you to drift in different directions and to stop when it detects the next photo in the panorama sequence. The app takes a minute or two to process the shot, but when it’s done, you have an amazing photo that you can rotate in any direction, enlarge and share as you would any iPhone image.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=83a86d0f76c4b2159fbdfa05896130dc

DealBook: Zynga Expected to Seek $10 Billion Valuation in I.P.O.

Mark Pincus, Zynga's chief executive.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesMark Pincus, Zynga’s chief executive.

Zynga, the fast-growing online game maker, plans to value itself at up to $10 billion in its initial public offering, according to two people briefed on the matter.

The company plans to file an amended prospectus on Friday with an estimated price range of $8 to $10 a share, these people said. At that range, Zynga would raise roughly $900 million. The company plans to sell up to 10 percent of its stock to public shareholders.

At $10 billion, Zynga is valuing itself lower than what some analysts had estimated.

Zynga declined to comment on Wednesday night. News of the Zynga offering’s terms was first reported by IFR Markets.

The individuals spoke on the condition of anonymity because the terms have not been made public.

Zynga, which is set to start its roadshow on Monday, is preparing to go public amid volatility in the I.P.O. market. This year, several technology offerings have performed well at first, but many have struggled to sustain their gains. Pandora, the online music service, has tumbled more than 36 percent since its I.P.O. in June. Meanwhile, Groupon, the popular daily deals site, has fallen sharply since its Nov. 4 offering, losing about $5 billion in market capitalization in the last few weeks.

In a move that may help investor confidence, some of Zynga’s largest shareholders will not sell shares in the offering, according to one person briefed on the matter. Zynga’s chief executive, Mark Pincus, and the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers are not planning to sell any shares in the I.P.O., this person said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ede7cb48cda9882aaa21263d2d671750

Pandora Gains on Subscriptions and Mobile Ads

In its first quarterly earnings since going public, Pandora Media, the company behind the Internet radio service, reported increased revenue on Thursday, as well as growth in subscriptions and mobile advertising.

For the three months that ended July 31, its fiscal second quarter, Pandora reported $67 million in revenue, up 117 percent from the same period a year ago. That beat the expectations of most analysts, who had predicted $60 million to $61 million. It was the company’s sixth consecutive quarter of triple-digit growth in revenue, measured year-over-year.

Pandora posted a net loss of $1.8 million, or 4 cents a share.

Advertising was $58.3 million of Pandora’s revenue for the quarter. Ads for mobile devices, where the majority of the service’s listening takes place, represented about half that amount. It was the first time mobile ad revenue had reached that level, the company said, although it has not disclosed the ratio in the past.

Last month, Pandora said that more than 100 million users had signed up for the service, and in a conference call with analysts on Thursday, Steven M. Cakebread, the chief financial officer, said that 37 million users tuned in at least once a month. For the quarter, Pandora users listened to a total of 1.8 billion hours of music, up 125 percent over the same period last year.

The company’s greatest expense is “content acquisition,” or royalties paid to music companies, and for the quarter Pandora paid $33.7 million for content, about half of its revenue.

Pandora raised $235 million in its stock offering on June 15, with shares initially priced at $16. On Thursday, the stock closed at $12.47, up 40 cents, or 3.31 percent, for the day.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=699571e7d9bb4ad81944843465d5f74c

Music Site Lets Users Play D.J. to Virtual, and Discerning, Crowds

The hottest new club isn’t in Los Angeles or New York. It’s on a Web site called Turntable.fm, where big-headed cartoon characters populate the D.J. booth.

On the site, users represented by cartoon avatars enter one of many virtual listening rooms, where up to five people at a time take turns playing songs for the crowd. Those in the room can type to chat with one another or click to give songs an “awesome” or “lame” vote.

D.J.’s who please the crowd with their song selections earn points, which can unlock virtual goods like a better-looking avatar. Those who make poor choices run the risk of getting booted from their coveted perch behind the turntables.

Fans of the site, which has been around about a month, say it can be addictive.

“If I’m awake, I’m on it,” said Elissa Jane Mastel, 42, an online marketing executive who lives in Woodstock, N.Y. “It’s the most fun I’ve had on a social Web site in a long time.”

Turntable.fm offers a twist on music services like Last.fm and Pandora, which are often referred to as Internet radio, but, in contrast to traditional radio, do not give people the experience of listening to the same song at the same time as others. It joins sites like WahWah.fm, Outloud.fm., and Listening Room that are trying to recreate the feeling of being with friends at a concert when listening to music at home. Turntable.fm’s fans say the service’s appeal stems from this focus on group listening, and on selecting songs to play based on the mood of the room.

“It’s not just me playing what I want to hear,” Ms. Mastel said. “It’s me playing music based on what other people are listening to.” To limit traffic, the site has set up a virtual velvet rope: Only those with a Facebook friend who has already signed up can get in.

It is still young enough and small enough that Web analytics firms like comScore are not able to track it yet. But interest in the site is surging amid a wave of favorable mentions in music and tech circles. AppData, which tracks activity on sites like Turntable.fm that use Facebook’s log-in system, says that more than 336,000 people have signed up over the last few weeks.

As is often the case with of-the-moment hot spots, there have been celebrity sightings, including the science-fiction author Neil Gaiman, the producer Diplo, the rappers Sir-Mix-a-Lot and Talib Kweli, and even Mark Zuckerberg. (Although when everybody in the room looks like an extraterrestrial teddy bear, identities can be hard to verify.)

Turntable.fm was created by two entrepreneurs, Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein, who had been working on a company called Stickybits that was focused on cellphone-scannable bar-code stickers. Although it attracted partners like Lipton Tea that hoped to use the stickers to offer coupons and rewards, it never took off with the public. Now the men are talking to venture capital firms and are close to wrapping up a deal for $6 million to $7 million in financing for Turntable.fm, according to a person briefed on the negotiations.

Both Mr. Chasen and Mr. Goldstein declined to be interviewed. The site recently cut off access for international users, indicating that it has already faced some objections from the music industry. The music for the site is supplied by a company called MediaNet that has the rights to offer its service only in the United States, Canada and Britain.

Drew Larner, chief executive of the streaming music service Rdio, said securing music rights was likely to be one of the biggest hurdles for a site like Turntable.fm, since record labels and publishers have strict rules about how their music can be used. Historically the industry has not been known for embracing online innovation; Spotify, a much-talked-about streaming music start-up, has struggled to bring its service to the United States.

“It’s the primary gating factor,” Mr. Larner said. “But labels are more open to new models of distribution with their content, because they want to capture this market.”

Those who have watched Turntable.fm over the last few weeks say that for now, the service is enjoying something of a golden moment, akin to the early days of LimeWire and Napster before copyright lawyers cracked down. Already there are certain aspects of the service that seem likely to raise hackles among music executives.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=bbdbb2da526b263a4201bb2f7fb39fa3

DealBook: Prada Prices Shares at Low End, Raising $2.1 Billion

The nervousness that has shaken  global markets this week took its toll  on Prada’s highly anticipated initial  public offering, forcing the Italian luxury fashion house on Friday to price its  shares at the low end of a previously announced range.

Prada, which is based in Milan and is  one of several high-profile Western  companies to list in Hong Kong this  year, priced its shares at 39.50 Hong  Kong dollars, or $5.06, apiece, according  to a person with direct knowledge of the  transaction, who spoke anonymously because the information was not yet  public.

 This means Prada will raise $2.1 billion, rather than the maximum of $2.6  billion that it had targeted with the original price range of 36.50 to 48 Hong Kong dollars,  which was set before the bout of risk  aversion that rattled global markets this  week.

 Greece’s debt woes and nervousness  about the prospects for global growth  sent markets worldwide reeling this week, prompting Prada to revise down its price guidance on Thursday.

 The fragile investor sentiment also  made for a rough trading debut for the  luggage maker Samsonite on Thursday  in Hong Kong. Samsonite shares gained  0.6 percent on Friday, but at 13.46 Hong Kong dollars, they remained below the issue  price of 14.50 Hong Kong dollars.

Those jitters also sent shares of Pandora Media plunging 24 percent on Wall  Street on Thursday, only the second day  of trading for the online radio company.

 Still, Prada’s $2.1 billion listing — the  sum could still rise 15 percent if an over- allotment option is exercised — is the fifth-largest in the biggest in the world  so far this year, according to Dealogic.  Others were the Swiss commodities  trader Glencore, Hutchison Ports,  which listed in Singapore in March, and  the American companies HCA Holdings and  Kinder Morgan.

 The Prada I.P.O. is also the biggest in Hong Kong this year, surpassing that of Shanghai Pharmaceuticals, which raised about $2 billion in May. Glencore raised $10 billion in a dual listing in London and Hong Kong, also last month, but only a small portion of the proceeds came from Hong Kong.

 With a new valuation of $13 billion,  Prada is dwarfed by the likes of LVMH  Moët Hennessy and Hermès, whose  market capitalizations stand at nearly  $80 billion and $30 billion, respectively.  But Prada is priced at a premium to others in the sector on a price-to-earnings basis.

 ‘‘To price a deal this size in a market  that is as difficult as now illustrates that  there is a high level of interest in what is  an undiluted play on the luxury sector,’’  said the person with knowledge of the  deal, adding that the offering had seen  firm interest from high-quality institutional investors from around the globe,  and was nearly three times oversubscribed.

 Prada, whose shares start trading on June 24, intends to use the bulk of the  proceeds to expand and upgrade its  store network. It aims to open an additional 80 directly operated stores a year for the next three years, with 25 of them taking place in the Asia- Pacific region.

 Soaring growth and affluence levels  in much of the region has made Asia the  source of the greatest growth for many luxury and consumer companies.

China, in particular, is fast growing into one of the world’s largest markets for  luxury goods. McKinsey estimated in a  recent study that by 2015, Chinese consumers will account for more than 20  percent of the global luxury market.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=dd9c7405174f47300926ece78f52324d