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Hollywood has a diversity problem, and Wharton operations, information, and decisions professor Kartik Hosanagar wants to use data science to fix it.
Inspired by his lifelong passion for storytelling and filmmaking, Hosanagar has launched Jumpcut, a startup to help Hollywood create more inclusive content by relying on data to show industry leaders that audiences are hungry for a wider range of representation. The business also serves as an incubator for undiscovered, diverse talent.
“However you measure it, the industry has not been particularly inclusive,” Hosanagar said during an interview with the Wharton Business Daily radio show on SiriusXM. (Listen to the podcast above.) “There’s a cost to audiences, which is we’re stuck in sequel culture and the lack of fresh, original stories. What we’re trying to do is really turn that on its head. We’re using data to discover new voices and stories and not just wait for Hollywood agents to discover them.”
The film and television industry has come under intense scrutiny in recent years for its lack of representation at all levels, from the actors on screen to the writers, producers, and directors behind it. McKinsey & Company released a report in March that determined Hollywood could make an additional $10 billion a year if it addressed persistent racial inequalities, and a 2020 study from Nielsen faulted streaming, broadcast, and cable television for its dearth of Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other underrepresented identities.
“However you measure it, the industry has not been particularly inclusive.” –Kartik Hosanagar
Hosanagar, who is also faculty director of Wharton’s AI for Business, doesn’t believe Hollywood became entrenched in its old ways out of overt bias. “The industry, as it’s become more and more of a big business, has become increasingly risk-averse, so there is a reliance on doing what has always worked in the past,” he said. “Our big a-ha moment was to recognize that there are other ways to de-risk stories and storytellers, and data is extremely good at that.”
Developing Global Talent
Jumpstart’s approach is threefold. First, the team uses algorithms to mine social media platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Wattpad for amateur creators who are putting out promising stuff: stories and videos with good production value, high emotional engagement, and global perspectives. The company also conducts data-driven audience testing to lay the groundwork for selling the content. Jumpstart can poll tens of thousands of people at a time to gauge their reaction, which is predictive of success.
Second, Jumpstart offers a network of support for undiscovered talent. For six weeks, content creators meet up on a video call to share their work, offer critical feedback, and build each other’s confidence.
“We know that a great idea alone isn’t enough,” Hosanagar said. “We need to develop them in the right way, so we invite them into incubators where there is a cohort of creators.”
Third, the company connects the content creators and the data with people in the industry who can open doors. According to its website, its list of partners includes Disney India, WME, Oscar-winning producer Lawrence Bender, Emmy-winning producer Shelby Stone, and others.
Hosanagar has firsthand experience with Hollywood’s closed doors. He is an academic and an entrepreneur, but he’s always loved telling stories. Ten years ago, he wrote a screenplay and showed it to several producers.
“Many of them liked the script, but they weren’t sure they could take a script from a new writer/director to the top financiers and actors in the industry,” he recalled. “I understood what they were saying, and I went back to my data interests. But over the years I’ve heard from many successful writers and directors that it’s taken them 15 years to break in, or that it’s hard to evaluate content or talent before they’re huge. That’s when I realized that, for the most part, Hollywood is an old boys’ club, and all decisions are made on gut or personal networks.”
He said data science can fix the industry’s diversity problem in a way that benefits both the bottom line and the demands of a global audience.
“Hollywood is acutely aware that they want to bring in new voices, new storytellers. They just don’t know how to do it… without taking on big risks,” he said. “We are kind of getting Hollywood to the second phase.”