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Big Data Goes to the Movies

Rentrak executives leverage big data to analyze box office trends and see the big picture.

by Alison Weiss ,
March 2014

Movie studios have always tracked box office numbers to determine if a film is a hit. Now, with new digital technologies, new distribution channels, and the international demand for movies, studio decision makers need to understand in real time the specific demographics of who purchased tickets, if they watched the movie in 2D, 3D, or IMAX, and their overall response to the movie. Executives are even interested in sentiment analysis, which tracks social media to determine what consumers believe about a film before it’s officially released.


This deep dive to analyze big data occurs almost constantly for analysts at Rentrak, a Portland, OR-based global media measurement and research company that tracks consumer viewing across the entire entertainment industry. Today, Rentrak analysts on the motion picture side of the business are able to analyze real-time big data generated by measuring 100,000 movie screens in 20,000 theaters in 37 countries – and provide critical box office insights at least once daily to executives at some of the biggest movie studios.

In the past, system performance hiccups sometimes impacted analysts’ ability to extract the necessary box office intelligence, and IT staff leaders were concerned about increasing IT overhead costs with the continued growth in the number of transactions processed multiple times an hour – and from the potential deluge of data associated with enabling sentiment analysis. “It’s critical that we have a hardware platform that can manage our superfast, real-time transactions quickly for analysis because the older the data is, the less value it has,” says Tim Pitzer, senior vice president, Theatrical Worldwide IT & Operations at Rentrak.

It’s critical that we have a hardware platform that can manage our superfast, real-time transactions quickly for analysis because the older the data is, the less value it has.
Tim Pitzer,
senior vice president, Theatrical Worldwide IT & Operations at Rentrak

With more big data generated every day, Rentrak IT executives recently worked with Oracle Platinum partner Cloud Creek Systems to implement an Oracle Database Appliance. The goal was to meet Rentrak’s need for a more powerful, more reliable, and faster hardware platform to host its Oracle and proprietary analytic applications and manage the flow of big data without having to increase IT overhead.

“We’re not hardware people here, so the appeal of the Oracle Database Appliance is that it is an integrated hardware and software solution,” says Pitzer.

Cloud Creek, based in Westlake Village, CA, is an Oracle Platinum Partner specializing in Oracle applications and Oracle engineered systems. It even has its own in-house lab outfitted with Oracle Engineered Systems for performance testing. In working with customers, Rhos B. Dyke, executive vice president at Cloud Creek, has found that the Oracle Database Appliance is a particularly cost-effective option for small and medium enterprises like Rentrak.

“When we began working with Rentrak, we showed the IT staff that they would get substantially better database performance without having to increase the overhead to manage their infrastructure,” he says. “The Oracle Database Appliance provides lots of room for database growth and expansion in a single box.”

Pitzer says implementing the Oracle Database Appliance went smoothly, and he is happy to report that it is much easier to support and manage his firm’s hardware and software infrastructure. In the last 18 months since the system went live, instead of having both a software infrastructure support team and a hardware infrastructure support team, now his IT staff is working more cooperatively.

In late 2013, Rentrak introduced two new services. One measures what customers think about a movie right after they’ve finish watching a film as they’re leaving the theater. Another is the new sentiment analysis service, which initially caused Pitzer to have some concerns about how the core business would be impacted and if the Oracle Database Appliance could scale.

“There’s a long lead time of up to a year before a movie is released, and we’re talking about tracking hundreds of thousands of social media conversations about movies,” he says. “But Cloud Creek assured us that we would have nothing to worry about, and we haven’t.”

For the foreseeable future, Rentrak and Cloud Creek plan to continue to work together, with Cloud Creek experts providing support with any system issues. They also will assist Rentrak staff on the development side to help analyze the potential system impact for any proposed new services.

“The Oracle Database Appliance supports our business by allowing us not only to gather big data, but also analyze movie box office trends and see the big picture,” says Pitzer.

Alison Weiss is a frequent contributor to Profit.

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