Digital Hollywood: social privacy – an oxymoron?

Digital Hollywood was a gathering in Los Angeles of execs from across the film, TV and digital media spectrums – over the course of four days it explored the changing nature of the broadcasting landscape and the relationship with, and engagement of, audiences – including social media, second screen, mobile and connected distribution.

Despite being the explicit subject of only one session, the issue of data ownership and privacy was a constant theme – and one of particular interest when contrasting the differences in US and UK/EU law.

The position of most US firms was nicely encapsulated by one producer when talking about free social media apps: “if you aren’t buying you have to accept that you are being sold”. In the eyes of these businesses the capture of your personal usage patterns and data allows them to provide you with a more targeted service and better data analytics, which crucially they can then sell on to advertisers – it is an “entitlement” and core to the business model.

The cracks in this methodology have started to appear as the public wake up to what they have signed up to by blindly ticking the T&C’s box – and a perceived gap in transparency makes them feel exploited, with Google and Facebook both high profile victims of this type of push back.

Part of the problem was highlighted when I asked a panel exactly this cultural question, the response can be paraphrased as “we’re already being monitored in a million ways, get used to it”. US politicians (objects of derision by a US digital audience for the SOPA/PIPA debacle) have now started to agitate in this gap of either understanding or transparency, depending on your point of view, with MySpace as a latest target to explain company data practices.

In this debate the necessity within UK / EU law of a requirement for users to “opt in” to allow apps and online sites to track their data is seen as a serious threat to business efficiency by the US media and is repeatedly raised as a key issue in conversations on European expansions.

Yet the rise of social media and second screen engagement continues inexorably (the stat quoted here was of 36% audiences using another device whilst watching TV) and on top of Twitter and Facebook a next generation of social tools is building. As the digital exec in charge of cult US indie TV hit Portlandia admitted, it’s difficult to predict or understand but vital to profile and audience engagement – citing a quadrupling of their Facebook impacts between series 1 & 2 as clearly a contributor to the breakthrough of the show.

And this ability to create a dialogue and engagement with audiences across multiple touchpoints is seen as crucial in achieving successful engagement in the “war for attention” in a media fragmented world. The social channels were nicely described as below:

  • Twitter = an echo chamber, news not dialogue
  • Facebook = better at dialogue, question & response
  • Pinterest = great engagement for the right content

Other US apps which are rapidly growing in this space include StumbleUpon, up to 25 million users on this recommendation engine, and Get Glue, a “check in” platform for entertainment.

More sophisticated again is Intonow (recently purchased by Yahoo). This app uses audio recognition to listen to what you are watching and then deliver synchronized additional content to your phone or tablet. It has been widely used by brands in tandem with screened advertisements –for example during this year’s Superbowl. UK audio recognition app Shazam is also adding this functionality and the first Shazam enabled ads have just aired on ITV.

So an interesting and still very fluid space, as data analysis and innovation in business models try to second guess the unpredictability of the connected audience – an audience which is getting wiser to the fact that understanding their choices and behaviour has an economic value.


Addendum 15/5: This NY Times article perfectly highlights the issue – on a fairly massive scale:

Facebook’s Prospects May Rest on Trove of Data:

Key quotes:

“As it works to better match ads to people, it has to avoid violating its users’ perceived sense of privacy or inviting regulatory scrutiny”

“How Facebook exploits its users’ information — and how those users react — is the next reckoning.”

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