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Big Data Comes to Hollywood: The Brewing Antitrust Battle of the Streaming Era

 |  January 5, 2020

By Eriq Gardner, Hollywood Reporter

Movie box office. TV ratings. Say what you will about the reliability of entertainment consumption metrics, but for decades, what people watched was hardly hush-hush. Then subscription video streamers came along. Now, massive data is collected about viewing habits but is disclosed only at the discretion of the companies sucking it up. Netflix says it will become more transparent in 2020. But will it? And who knows if the numbers it releases are inaccurate or misleading? How much should the rest of Hollywood care about transparency?

Well, consider that less than two years ago, Time Warner’s then-CEO Jeff Bewkes took the witness stand during a trial where the U.S. government attempted to block his company’s merger with AT&T. Bewkes pointed to Amazon, Netflix, YouTube and Facebook before explaining that these companies “know more about our consumers than we do.” The merger was justified, he explained, because digital giants possessed something that one of Hollywood’s biggest media companies sorely needed — data. “The more you know about viewers, the more it informs your programming,” he said. “It helps you understand how to optimize.”

Hollywood is catching up. Disney has launched its data-sucking streaming service Disney+ while others including AT&T’s HBO Max will be running soon enough. With a 21st century operation, though, comes a 21st century problem: the potential for regulation. Government intervention could drop a bomb on the so-called streaming wars.

Only in the past few years have academics begun discussing whether Big Data presents antitrust issues, and if so, what to do about it. Spurred by frustration at the might of companies like Google and Facebook, lawmakers and regulators on both sides of the political aisle have in recent months openly endorsed the scrutinizing of companies that are leveraging their inside knowledge about consumer habits to the disadvantage of third parties.

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