February 26, 2016
OSCARS 2016

Did These Companies Just Predict the 2016 Oscar Winners?

Big Data Binary Code Image No Film School Oscars
Tech firms are claiming they can predict the winners of Sunday's Oscars just by crunching numbers.  

Ever since Nate Silver correctly predicted 49 out of 50 states during the 2008 Presidential Election, more and more companies have started using Big Data to peer into the future, including Hollywood studios. This year, two companies, Cognizant and Clarabridge, are betting that The Revenant is going to take home multiple prizes this Sunday, including Best Picture. While this isn't exactly a wild guess (the odds in Vegas are also on the film), the methods the firms used to arrive at their conclusions are a glimpse into the ways Big Data, once used solely for political and sports analysis, is creeping into every aspect of modern life.

In looking at this year's Oscars, the companies fed over 150 variables — genre, box office, reviews, MPAA ratings and demographics (including, for instance, the percentage of female viewers under 18 who might have seen a particular film) — into their proprietary algorithm, a step-by-step series of operations that in this case takes the raw data and converts it into something comprehensible. The data spanned 15 years of Oscar wins. 

"We take the human element out and just look at the data — the algorithm doesn't watch the films." 

"We take the human element out and just look at the data —the algorithm doesn't watch the films," explained Nirav Patel from Cognizant, an IT Consultant firm employed by four major studios. The sheer amount of data they had to comb through is staggering, including 150,000 text reviews and over 38 million star ratings from IMDB.

Interestingly enough, Patel and his team discovered that so-called "negative sentiment" played a large role in the success or failure of a film. "If people feel a particularly strong emotion associated with a character's struggle within the story, they feel like they were there," said Patel. This seems to be the case particularly with The Revenant, where Leonardo DiCaprio's character struggles through some "stomach-turning" scenes. "It used to be about positive words versus negative words, but now artificial intelligence can understand the nuances and connotations of phrases," said Patel.

According to data released by the two firms, Sunday's Best Picture Academy Award goes to...

Nate Silver's own FiveThirtyEight has another set of similar predictions:

  • Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander
  • Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone
  • Best Actress: Brie Larson
  • Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Best Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
  • Best Picture: The Revenant
The more weight the studios place on the success of Big Data, the more that data will influence their awards season campaign spending. This is a slippery slope. According to Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis, reliance upon Big Data could impact the creativity of the studios. "The challenge is using data to create something new, which is difficult," he said, "rather than replicating previous successes, which is easy."
 

Your Comment

16 Comments

It's kinda funny that my order of the best movies this year is nearly the same (I would only put The Martian at the last place). I only hope that Spotlight won't get Oscar, because this film is super overrated. It has a great story, but the filmmaking aspect is not great enough.

February 26, 2016 at 11:33AM, Edited February 26, 11:34AM

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Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist
1358

I doesn't require crunching numbers and analyzing Big Data to successfully navigate the Oscar winners. The last 15 years have consistently shown (except for a handful of "surprises") that the most popular and those with the strongest press campaigns walk away with the statue…Academy members being who they are. On the other hand, Vegas and some bookies can certainly appreciate the extra edge this technology can offer.

February 26, 2016 at 11:38AM, Edited February 26, 11:38AM

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Luis Bohorquez
Cinematographer
113

While that may be true a lot of times. Birdman was neither the favorite nor did it have anywhere near the biggest press campaign.

February 26, 2016 at 12:57PM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1216

If this can be done reliably, it has put my mind on a course of thinking that may veer from the actual subject at hand so, pardon my diversion...

I have high hopes that one day, one of these companies will develop a method for analyzing crappy video, rejecting it and rendering it incapable of being posted anywhere in cyberspace. Perhaps even entering the host computer and destroying the file where it lives.

Maybe some of the rejection parameters could be:

The video has more than 10 shots of a skateboard.

More than 50% of it is comprised of slomo.

A single shot of a 20-something guy with a shaved head, full beard and tattoos covering his arms
(even better if it could determine whether the video was shot or directed by this person).

A cat or a baby is the protagonist.

But, I dream...

February 26, 2016 at 11:52AM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
1929

I've seen your work... bored and anorexic fashion models have an similar place reserved in hell.

February 26, 2016 at 12:26PM

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Zan Shin
394

Ha ha! Perhaps you are correct. Thanks

February 26, 2016 at 12:36PM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
1929

I'm happy to see some people can take criticism in stride haha

February 26, 2016 at 1:39PM

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Kenneth Merrill
Director
1328

Man that guy got rekt

February 26, 2016 at 7:09PM

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Chris J. Samuel Productions
Writer/Director/DP/Producer/Editor/Filmmaker/Production
164

And Zan, thank you for taking the time to, actually, look at my work! You opinion was formed from research. Hats off to you.

February 26, 2016 at 8:04PM, Edited February 26, 8:04PM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
1929

I've always wondered why the industry standard seems to be the hangry look for models.

February 28, 2016 at 2:21AM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
933

Richard has a point. There's a steady stream of skateboard videos that promote a camera, even high end cameras. You'd think everyone is on a skateboard in this world.

February 27, 2016 at 12:58AM, Edited February 27, 12:58AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1939

I'm interested to see what people think: How much does story play into the decision for best picture?

In my opinion, it's overlooked a lot.

Of the eight best pictures, six have screenplay nominations too.

The Revenant was not one of them. (Neither was Mad Max, but that movie was pure visual fun entertainment!)

The Revenant was an impressive production and the cinematography was truly brilliant. I enjoyed that aspect very much so, and that aspect cannot be taken away from Iñárritu and Lubezki (I am a big fan of both by the way).

But it was kind of dull when it came to story. Maybe you disagree which is cool, but I didn't really connect with Hugh Glass or care about his journey.

Comparing this to the other best picture nominations, I found their stories to be far more gripping, unpredictable and emotional. I was able to connect with the characters on a far more deeper level. And they too were also well shot and visually initiative films with there share of other nominations in the various categories.

Visuals are obviously very important in film (duh).

But for Best Picture, surely Story has to have a bigger impact. And if that story was just so and so, average, not particularly exciting, then should that film get best picture?

I don't think so. Do you?

February 26, 2016 at 6:36PM, Edited February 26, 6:41PM

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Mark Freeney
Screenwriter Freelance
81

I think connecting with "the reality" of The Revenant may be dependent on where you grew up. If you're a country boy like me Leonardo DiCaprio's acting didn't resonate with reality. It was just a Hollywood actor overacting, a Hollywood actor who rarely has experienced the real wilds, whose only real experience with it was what he's seen of it in movies. If you have little experience with the wild, his acting may be convincing.

February 27, 2016 at 12:48AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1939

They need to change the algorithm. "The Big Short" has a much better chance than that. I'd love to see their faces if "The Big Short" wins!

February 27, 2016 at 2:27PM

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Ricardo
Film Student
213

Four correct out of six. Not bad.

February 29, 2016 at 2:03AM

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Oh please, those were a given. You don't need an algorithm for that, just follow SGA.

March 1, 2016 at 1:21PM

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Ricardo
Film Student
213