CBS boss Moonves puts data in its (productive) place

The key to great content is making the data work with your gut

If you want to make content work for your brand you can’t place all your trust in data and you can’t simply follow your gut; you’ve got to make them work together.

This is what CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves outlined at Cannes earlier this week and with good reason. He knows there is a revolution going on in the world of content and technology, and that he needs to use the relevant data to inform his decision on which programmes and platforms to invest in and how.

Over-the-top services for TV companies has been the latest move in owning content online. CBS and HBO both launched their own web-viewing services last year, removing the barriers for people who want access to shows without a pay-TV subscription, with ESPN likely to follow suit to allow NBA fans access to live games online.

While the rise of online streaming services has forced broadcasters to look at how they disseminate their content, it hasn’t effected the sheer demand for content from these companies. In the US there are currently 410 scripted series available to viewers, when just five years ago there were 200. On demand has grown so much that Netflix is now a global service, but live events are still key to viewers – a total of 14.4 million people watched the Super Bowl this year.

And this is where the pairing of data and gut instinct creates the best content for viewers. Moonves started out as an actor, so not only can he see the business argument for investing in new content but he also knows that he has to feel the magic when he’s watching it. “Not to use the data would be stupid,” he says, but “when I sit back and watch a piece of content I know it’s good because it effects me”.

“The thing you can’t do is an algorithm for content. Don’t give me data and say this is the type of show that should be on the air. I don’t believe it, it would put me out of business, my skill set would be totally gone,” he said.

And that is true for the entire industry. Long live the creativity and complexity of content, the way it makes us develop new ways to deliver it to audiences who crave it, and its ability to still make us feel something when we watch it.

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