Carnegie Mellon University
March 27, 2012

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon's Heinz College Developing Data Scientists To Help Meet Hollywood's Growing Digital Needs

CMU Faculty, Students Attend SXSW; Host Expert Panel on Data Strategies

Contact: Ken Walters / 412-268-1151 /

PITTSBURGH—In Hollywood, movies about "mad scientists" have helped studios attract moviegoers and increase ticket sales for generations. Today, however, studios are looking for a different type of genius: data scientists.

To meet this need, Carnegie Mellon University's H. John Heinz III College is introducing a business intelligence and data analysis concentration for its Master of Information Systems Management (MISM) program. As traditional motion picture, television and video game businesses merge into an integrated digital entertainment landscape, the ability to make sense of large amounts of digital data will be essential for entertainment companies to succeed.

"There is a real need for data scientists — professionals who not only understand where the data comes from, such as social network sites, blogs, and twitter for example — but also understand how that data can be used by various business units to make better decisions about their marketing and operations," said Ari Lightman, distinguished service professor of digital media and marketing at Heinz College.

This is especially true for entertainment companies, which must monitor and measure consumer response to their digital offerings, while protecting their products from piracy.

Nate Rubin, a first-year graduate student in Heinz College's Master of Entertainment Industry Management (MEIM) program, has been working with HBO as part of Lightman's "Measuring Social Media" class. Most entertainment companies are just beginning to use big data to determine key performance indicators, such as measuring the value of social media efforts and community engagement, he said.

"We are helping to write the handbook on big data in Hollywood," Rubin said, adding that the impact of such data goes beyond the industry's executive boardrooms and marketing teams. "Director Kevin Smith held a panel discussion at the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference, which focused completely on big data and how people who make films can appeal to audiences by using it," he noted.

While the recent proliferation of digital data is often referred to as "big data," Lightman said the real challenge is that the data is messy, and data scientists are needed to help sort it out.

"What you have is traditional structured data and then all of the messy data — information from social networking sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter — and the goal is to try and merge both types of data to create information that helps you engage social communities and improve customer relationships," he said.

Lightman and Rubin, along with Carnegie Mellon faculty and students from various colleges, attended SXSW, an annual tech, music and media conference held in March in Austin, Texas. The event, which has morphed into a magnet for technology companies and Hollywood, provided students with insights into both the film industry and interactive technologies.

At the conference, Lightman moderated a panel discussing the role data analytics plays in creating successful marketing strategies, which included representatives from Topspin Media, R/GA and Rhiza Labs. Pepsi, Thomson Reuters, R/GA and the Pittsburgh Technology Council sponsored the event.