Category: About the Website

About Me…My biography

I’m a huge believer in “data”. I’ve noticed, though, that sometimes this bias towards data is interpreted as a sole focus on data in databases. Or it’s interpreted as a bias against case studies, or, more specifically, anecdotes.

Here’s the thing: anecdotes are both powerful and awful at the same time. On the “awful” side, a lot of anecdotes are used to refute rigorous data. Something like, “I know you have all this data, but Seinfeld tested poorly!” (It’s always that Seinfeld example.)

That said, anecdotes, or observations of human behavior (in simpler terms, “examples”) can be used as a starting point to form a hypothesis, which we can test with data. So starts with anecdotes, then move to data.

Take my personal behavior when I surf the web. Whenever I come across a new website, one of the first things I do is click on the “About Me” tab to find out, “Who is this person?” (If I’m being crude and I disagree with the person, it’d be more along the lines of “Who is this f-wording joker?”) If the website is poorly made or looks like Russian trolls made it, looking for the “About” page will usually reveal them to be a fraud.

This is an anecdote about personal behavior. But it gives a clue that some readers like to know who they are reading. If I pulled a lot of website data, I’d bet the “About Me” page on many websites top ten most visited pages. It could even be a success metric: getting lots to clicks on “About Me” as a sign people are new and want to learn more about what they are reading.

Since I don’t have the data to run the above experiment, I’m just going to make the hypothesis that I should have a better biography/“About Me” page than my current one, which is non-existent. Before today, I had two tabs, content and contact me. And even the contact me may not have worked before month three.

The challenge is providing a biography so you know my bonafides without giving the game away. If I give away enough hints, then surely someone will do enough Linked-In stalking and my identity will be revealed. (Or I’ll slip up. On the internet, no one knows if you’re a dog, but they’ll know you’re named Fido.)

So here goes. I posted this bio today, and I’m putting it up in an article today for everyone to read.

I’m an entertainment executive who has spent the last few years at the intersection of content, technology and business. I’ve spent the 2010s working in media and entertainment companies. Well, entertainment companies, both as an employee, intern and consultant. These companies have run the gamut from giant studio conglomerates to a streaming company (and one of the big ones) to independent production companies, in both television and film.

I’ve held roles ranging from strategic planning to business development. What does this mean? Well it’s different at every company, but I’ve drawn a lot of analysis from huge data sets and put these into PowerPoints for senior executives to pore over. And hopefully make decisions. I’ve also looked for “revenue generating” opportunities, which means building business plans, evaluating content plans/offering and negotiating deals. I enjoy making Excel spreadsheets too and poring over data for insights.

I’ve been fortunate to cover a lot of fun stuff touching on a bunch of different areas.

Before that I went to a top tier business school and specialized in the business of entertainment. I also took as many classes as possible where “numbers” were involved, only topped by the number of classes where “entertainment” was involved. I graduated at the top of my class. Not near the top, the very top. As a result, I was was asked by multiple professors to TA their classes for them and share my knowledge. I also one several other awards.

Well before that I went to UCLA as an undergraduate. I graduated and worked in a really demanding field that provided me the skills to go to business school. I also developed a love of writing and I’ve been published on many different websites and traditional newspapers under my actual name.

Introducing: “Analysis Articles”

Tomorrow, I’m going roll out part one of a potentially four (or more) part series analyzing The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. I’m going to ask a simple, yet tough to answer question, how much money did Disney make off that deal?

When I launched this website, I decided specifically not to call it a “blog”. And I don’t want to call it that because of that article coming out tomorrow. And I want to explain why.

Since I left my last job, I’ve been thinking about writing about the business of entertainment. Specifically, the strategy of entertainment companies, defined as the decisions they make and the quality of those decisions. I selected this vague area because in my analysis of the entertainment journalism landscape, I didn’t really see anyone covering it.

Trade goings-on? Covered by Variety and Hollywood Reporter and others.

Industry analysis for financial firms? Covered by stock brokerage companies, including Rich Greenfield of BTIG.

Statistics of entertainment? A lot of statisticians dive into that field with websites.

Strategy of technology? Obviously StraTECHery has us covered.

But analysis and explanation of the strategy of the entertainment business? I just don’t see enough of that on a regular basis.

I had a ton of ideas for smaller articles. I’m calling those my idea posts and they’re most similar to what an old-fashioned blog was: a bunch of posts going up on a variety of topics with my opinions. Some of these will be on the business of entertainment, or industry trends, or recommendations or explaining updates to the site or even vaguely political posts (if the politics impacts the entertainment industry, and it does). But those ideas aren’t enough to distinguish me in an already crowded entertainment journalism landscape.

I also know people love updates on the news. I could try to distinguish myself there. But honestly, I’m not good at devouring news constantly and spitting it out. That said, I do read a ton, and I get thoughts. So on a weekly basis I’ll put out a review of the news of the week, with my own spin on the most important stories.

Still, that’s not enough. Which is where “analysis” articles come in. These are the magazine pieces of this website and hopefully the centerpieces for why entertainment execs—senior, novice or aspiring, creative and business types, all are welcome!—will come here. I’ll take big questions and try to answer them analytically, in a readable style. My first one goes up tomorrow, and it’s a fun question with a lot of serious learning points and deep analysis, that ends up touching on the future of the film industry.

Types of Analysis Articles

To give you an idea of how deep, I’ll give you an idea of some of the topics I want to pick.

Big Questions: I’m starting with this tomorrow, which is a good example of a big one, “How much money did Disney make on the Lucasfilm acquisition?” It requires running the potential financials on four different lines of business, and will allow me to explain the economics of feature films. Other ideas in this category are “How does Netflix value original content?” and “How much should Disney charge for its SVOD platform?” In each case, I hope to explain how I got my numbers so other people can learn from it.

Versus: As I was brainstorming potential topics, I started thinking of companies to compare to each other. Sort of like a preview of a football or basketball game, but for entertainment companies. And instead of a one off match, it would predict out the next two to three years. Once I started, I came up with a ton of fun ideas like, “Who won the deal, Disney or 21st Century Fox?”, “Who has a brighter future, Atom Tix, Fandango or Movie Pass?”, “Who should Vox sell a TV show to, MSNBC or Netflix?” or “Who did better Grantland or The Ringer?” Really, the sky is the limit and I want to compare everyone from Snapchat to Twitter to NBC-Universal to Warner Brothers.

Power Rankings: So since I”m already declaring winners above, my next idea is a natural extension of that. I’m going to rank companies in different areas as I come up with topics. The key will be grounding them in specific numbers, and that’s the hardest part so far, but could be the most insightful. I’ve come up with a few fun ideas including “Streaming Services”, “Franchises” and “Kids Platforms” and we’ll see how many more I can do and how long they take.

What “Analysis” articles will include

What can you expect from analysis articles (assuming they don’t kill me in the meantime)?

First, numbers. One of my future themes will be “strategy is numbers” and one of the most frustrating things for me when reading coverage of entertainment is the willingness to ignore numbers when proclaiming a winner in strategy (especially with Netflix). That’s why I’m going to try to push the questions to always having a financial winner or loser, if I can. Hopefully, this is grounded in really good data, though that depends on what I can find.

Second, learning points. As I was writing my first few analysis pieces, I felt the need to explain parts of entertainment business models. These are things I just don’t think a lot of people know and even I learn more about as I do them. So I’m going to explain what I know often to explain how I’m coming to my conclusions. I think it will make us all smarter.

Third, they’ll be long. In a previous writing enterprise, I tried to keep blog posts to under a 1,000 words which meant I often did series of articles on topics. I’ll still break up analysis articles, but often times the whole article will be several pages long. Again, much more like a magazine article than a blog post. In the end, I may collate the entire thing into a pdf for readability.

The Future

So how often will these articles come out? Probably weekly, with occasional breaks. I have the first two mostly written, but they are tremendously long so will come out in parts. Hopefully over time I can shrink that length.

To be fully transparent, in the future, I may hide these analysis articles behind a pay wall. Or only allow access to people who give me their email address (and some data). Why? Well I need to make money on this writing and if my gut is correct—I think this articles could be popular and/or the most valuable piece of writing I have—then it would be a good way to monetize the site.

Overall, I’m really excited to get started with these analysis articles. They’re the most exciting things I’ve worked on in a few years related to the business of entertainment. I get to improve my skills at analyzing other entertainment companies, and I get to do it outside of a corporate context. (And a consultant context.) Which means I don’t have to deal with the opinions of a lot of senior people biasing my outcomes.

Also, I get to learn a ton more about how different businesses operate. Stuck inside a company, you get very myopic. Plus, there is something about reading news reports on a company, and something else trying to dig into a company in detail. The “versus” concept in particular has allowed me to compare two companies with something interesting linking them.

Finally, I get to hone my process. I think we all need to make better decisions, and analysis articles are my way to do that.

I hope you enjoy the first of many to come.

My Process

Most organizations–from corporations to sports teams to armies to universities to government agencies to non-profits–think they use a sound process to make important decisions.

But they aren’t. They are arriving at the easiest decisions.

I’ll use a media example to show the worst process. Basically, political pundits opine and opine and opine for months about an upcoming election. Then when it happens, they go on air and, if they were wrong, ignore what they said before, or, if they were right, embrace it wholeheartedly. Either way, they develop a narrative to suit whatever the data says. That’s an easy process.

The opposite process is much harder. In my opinion, the gold standard of openness is the journalism of FiveThirtyEight. Nate Silver and his team go out of their way to be open with their process, even explaining how their election model works (or doesn’t). They also write articles owning up to mistakes when they make them. The highlight was when Silver admitted that he didn’t acknowledge the data that showed Trump’s underlying strength during the primaries. He corrected and didn’t make that mistake in the 2016 general election.

I wish corporate America had such an open process.

I want to emulate Nate Silver’s approach to tough problems. He has politics and sports covered (along with some other great journalists), so I’m going to focus on entertainment. I want to ask big, interesting questions, and use a sound decision-making approach to find unique insights and answers.

Honestly, I want to get better at analyzing problems and hopefully making better decisions overall. I want to be more accurate. To do so, I am going to use the decision-making process I wish I could have used in my last job. Yeah, I stole Nate Silver’s philosophy, but I’m tailoring it to my style.

That’s the process I want to explain here, once, so I can reference it in all future “analysis” articles. (I’ll explain what those are in a separate post.) I want to be very open with my process. This way, when people criticize my conclusions, I can point to my process and ask for recommendations for how to improve that. Hopefully, it will also make other people better at understanding their processes.

Part 1: Blink Analysis

I start the process with my “blink” analysis. Yes, I stole the name from Malcolm Gladwell’s book. Like any long Gladwell topic, you never quite know how well the initial ideas have stood up to longer-term academic scrutiny.

But the core idea is fantastic. As soon as you hear something, you get an instant reaction. And I try to capture that as soon as I get an idea for a question. I try not to think about it, but just put my thoughts on paper. Consider this my “looking at a statue and calling it fake” analysis for those who have read Gladwell’s book.

My working theory is that most of us do this ten times a day in conversation. You hear some news, “Did you hear that so-and-so was hired at such-and-such company?” and draw a conclusion, instantly. We just don’t acknowledge it. I’m trying to acknowledge it up front.

Part 2: The Gut

My next step is the “gut”. Here, I try to write down what I think about a question, but my goal is to reflect a bit deeper on it. Whereas the blink is a paragraph, this could run to a page or more.

The best analogy is the “case question” in an interview. In my analysis articles, I’ve asked a challenging business question (to myself) and now I need to see if I can answer it. And like a case study question, I won’t have any data to go from. I can divine some data I think I know or know for sure, but I can’t use the internet to confirm it. So my “gut” analysis is deeper than blink, but without the numbers that come from part 3 of the process, my analysis.

Honestly, when I set up this process, I realized how often this is essentially what we do in a business meeting. Sure we get initial blink answers, but as we have a conversation about an important issue or the future of entertainment (say at a conference talk or in a group or around a table in a meeting), we’re having a “gut” conversation. We can’t pull up numbers, so we do our best guesses.

The reference book here is Thinking Fast and Slow, or The Undoing Project, which are stand-ins for the work of professors Kahneman and Tversky. Two of the founders of behavioral economics, they basically show that “blink” goes wrong when it relies on misleading heuristics. In other words, your blink can often mislead you. The gut stage is supposed to short circuit that quick analysis to allow a moment of reflection.

That said, the gut may be the most dangerous or seductively appealing of the three stages. My “gut analysis” is NOT my final answer. The gut can be tremendously misled by assumptions we haven’t fully explored because we don’t have enough time to do it. Or the data doesn’t support it. It gives us unearned confidence.

This is why I think Hollywood overall makes most of its bad decisions, it stops after the gut decision-making. So how do we make our gut a little more accurate? We do the analysis.

Part 3: The Analysis

This is really the meat of the process. This is where we make better decisions. And it’s the toughest part.

So what is it? It is about deciding on a framework, and putting numbers to that framework to derive an answer. It won’t be the same process each time—that’s asking too much from any framework—but every process should have some numbers. Those numbers are then analyzed. Throw in more quantitative and qualitative data along with history and experience. But it is ultimately boiling down to some numbers, whose judgement I have to accept.

A key to making this work is to do the analysis myself. In most cases that will mean asking the right questions, finding the data, building the models and thinking about all that I’ve analyzed. The key, though, is doing the work myself. I specifically want to avoid the thoughts of others as long as possible in this part.

Why? Because I want to be part of the experts in the crowd, not the crowd-source.

Let’s explain that. Take any one expert. Usually, they are pretty inaccurate. Sometimes they have hot streaks, but overall they can be wrong often. A real world example is NFL experts picking games. Any one expert gets a lot wrong. But if you poll a dozen experts, they’re more accurate than the majority of experts. In entertainment, the gold standard is Gold Derby, whose poll of Oscar predictors is more accurate than most other predictors.

Another example is Nate Silver taking a poll of polls. He doesn’t run his own poll—a new set of data that can be inaccurate—but he polls the polls to make them more accurate. In this analogy, I actually want my analysis to be like the NFL expert or individual poll or the individual Oscar predictor. I’ll be inaccurate often, but if you combine my analysis with others, you’ll have a more accurate picture of the world.

By doing the analysis myself, I’ll come up with unique insights. This means I’m adding analysis into the world, not simply parroting opinions I’ve read elsewhere. I don’t want to be the person collecting the crowd-source, but adding data and analysis into the world you can’t find anywhere else.

My caution is I’m doing this because I can. I don’t do this exhaustive analytical process for fields I’m weak in. Take fantasy football. I can’t watch every football game in the NFL, so I don’t try. Instead, I rely on experts who do and statistics that have predictive accuracy. I think I can add my own individual expertise into the analysis of the entertainment industry because I excelled at this analysis in business school and in my career, and I consider myself an expert. I wouldn’t be writing all these words otherwise.

Part 4: Research and Other Opinions

Doing analysis myself doesn’t mean I ignore other opinions and analysis. After I’ve done my opinion, I head to the crowd. See what they think. Then, I weigh whether any of it has a strong enough weight to change my mind.

In some cases, like comparing “Atom Tickets to Fandango to Movie Pass”—a future article I’m working on—there won’t be a ton of people weighing in on the issue. Or there won’t be a substantive analysis to compare my own to. In other cases, like evaluating The Walt Disney Company-21st Century Fox acquisition, lots of people analyzed that deal at the time.

There is another analogy to polling that provides the one caution at this stage. One of the things Nate Silver worries about is when he sees polls cluster around the same result. This worries him because he thinks pollsters are subtly manipulating their polls to arrive at a conclusion. The polls do this because they don’t want to seem like outliers with the negative connotation that comes from that.

I think this phenomena plays out all the time in the world of business. Doing your own analysis takes a lot of time, so it is easier to let someone else do it. So a lot of the business world (and stock market) cluster around similar opinions even if their own analysis pointed somewhere else. (Or would point to it if they took the time to do a clear process.)

So after I do my own analysis, I’ll read other people’s thoughts and update my thinking. See where I go against the grain and see where I don’t. This may be in my analysis or in later updates, I haven’t decided yet.

So that’s my ideal process. Now it’s time to see how it works.