Independent Internet Video Studio meshes Creativity with Advanced Data Science

Paul Greenberg Founder Butter Works

After several sessions grappling with the history and future of Internet platforms Google and Facebook, the Rise of Internet Media class turned their attention to Internet video. Digital Media veteran executive and first-time entrepreneur Paul Greenberg (MTV, Time, College Humor, Nylon, and A&E) has founded a new company called Butter Works that could be the first agency to deploy the Netflix playbook for clients. Very few independent agencies, consultancies, or production companies that utilize methodology inspired by Netflix data science.

The most thoughtful work I’ve encountered on Netflix has been the series on REDEF written by the former Amazon Studios executive Matt Ball. Part 2 of this series is the most interesting overview of the divergent OTT business models I have read. My students, alumni, and followers should do the Ball readings. While challenging to distill his analysis, here’s my summary:

Netflix is a dazzling sophisticated, technologically advanced, data immersed media company.

The Netflix methods for greenlighting new projects, renewing content, marketing, and recommending shows has the company playing chess while Amazon, HBO, Hulu, Starz, and Showtime play checkers. For example, Netflix must have clearly understood the value of The Office to its business model when they renewed The Office and made the deal exclusive to them for OTT. Perhaps NBC Universal was blown away by the offer, but did they maximize the size of the deal? Chess and checkers.

Meanwhile, did Amazon use data in an equally rigorous way to price the rights to their forthcoming Lord of The Rings series. Did Apple use data to cut their deals with Reese Witherspoon and Oprah the way Netflix modeled the costs of their partnerships with Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy?

Paul Greenberg showed one slide from his arsenal of the Butter Works analytics tools in class, it became the first time I’d seen an agency offering built upon the Netflix methodologies. Butter Works is an outsourced Internet Video studio that counts Netflix, Bustle, The Guardian, and a host of companies as clients. They produce short-form videos and branded content for companies that need h the full gamut of video industry competencies including development, production, and distribution. While the world is full of production companies, few of them employ data scientists. Butter Works is blending the Netflix data-oriented approach to develop, produce, and distribute Internet video.

A major media hired Butter Works to do make some internet video content for a brand that is focused on animals. This is a very broad creative brief and Butter Works needed to narrow the guidance for their creative executives. For Paul’s team to succeed they needed creative guardrails. By analyzing millions of video views across SnapChat, Instagram, and YouTube the company was able to zero in on an underserved opportunity in animal birth and baby videos. They ruled out cat and dog videos as popular and too crowded and kitten and fishing videos as fairly unpopular. Birth videos were highly desirable and underserved. The result was a sloth spectacular and millions of video views.

The Butter Works methodology requires sourcing and analyzing millions of data points. But an equally big challenge is how to distill the insights into digestible information for internal and external constituencies. What really impressed me about the Butter Works intellectual property was how they communicated a complex analysis in only one slide. This is work that would have made quantitative information guru Edward Tufte proud. Paul is not ready to publish these proprietary charts at this writing, but his talk sheds light on how data now plays a critical role in the content development process. For decades, Hollywood has been testing movies in front of audiences and has altered films as a result. But Netflix and now Butter Works utilize data much further upstream in the production process.

Hundreds of NYU students and dozens of MCC students will enter the media industry this summer. It’s essential they bring a set of data analytics skills to blend with their formidable training in critical thinking.