The head of the US network behind hit shows such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad has criticised the use of data to pick shows, calling it a “goddamm disaster”.
Josh Sapan, chief executive of AMC Networks, said data mining was useful for marketing and promotion but not in making creative decisions. Although he failed to mention any rival firms in comments made at the RTS TV festival in Cambridge, Amazon and Netflix are US companies known for using data to inform decisions.
“Others have tried mining data to use it to say good show, bad show or this story, that story … I’ve never seen it work terribly well. You can’t number your way to greenlighting a show and you can’t get data that shows you how to fix a story.
“Numbers are not knowledge; that particularly applies in the creative sphere.”
Adding that AMC had a business analytics department which “provides an awful lot of insight”, he added: “Where the data flies well versus not well, it flies extremely well on the promotion and marketing side … how to spend money and how to reach people.”
AMC, which last year signed a joint venture with BBC Worldwide over BBC America, heaped praise on the British broadcaster, which Sapan credited with leading the way for a shift towards high-quality shows in the US. “You guys are the godfathers of soul, you’ve been at that playbook for longer.” He named Luther, Broadchurch, Top Gear and the AMC/BBC joint venture Honourable Woman as great programmes.
He poured scorn on those fixated by scheduling, before showing a comedy sketch on the power of binge watching. “You can’t dictate to people where to go … You’d just better hurry up and have the right stuff. If you don’t, no amount of clout or scale will work.”
Social media was “truly democratising” as it could make a hit out of a show from a tiny group with little marketing spend, he said.
Talking about the US market, Sapan said subscription numbers were maturing, while viewing was moving away from linear channels to streaming. “It’s pretty big evolution rather than revolution … It’s not fireworks … people haven’t thrown their big TVs out of the window.”