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: BrieLarson
  • 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."

Source: Can we predict Oscar winners using data analytics alone?