Art by Data Design or as I call it, “Test Tube Shows.”

test-tubes-broadwayHere’s a blog (and a concept) that the purists out there are gonna throw some serious hate on.

First, a question . . . have you seen House of Cards?  If so, do you like it?

Odds are if you’ve seen it, you like it.  In addition to the show being successful with audiences, it has also been a hit with critics (check out their 81% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and it made it to the big leagues when it grabbed a bunch of Emmy noms and some statues to boot.

A success, wouldn’t you say?

Of course it is.  It was designed that way.

Netflix didn’t make House of Cards because a lighting bolt hit ’em.  It wasn’t divine show-spiration.

It was data.

Check out this fascinating NY Times Article about how Netflix dug through the viewing history of its members and noticed that there was a solid base of David Fincher fans who intersected with Kevin Spacey fans who intersected with fans of the original British series.  And all of a sudden, risk was mitigated, and the bet seemed more like a sure thing.

All because they had tons and tons of data.

They used data of “what the people want” to help design new art.  (Now do you get the test tube metaphor?)

And bingo, bongo . . . it worked.

Think we could do this for Broadway?  Is there a way to examine the viewing habits of the last 10 years to decide who/what/when people went to see and what they want to see?  Could we develop shows based on this info that had a better shot at succeeding?  (Read this terrific piece from HowlRound about this very idea.)

The answer is yes.  Yes we could.  Like House of Cards we could create shows that would have a better shot at succeeding.

But it doesn’t guarantee success.

Data didn’t make HOC a hit.  The execution by the incredible artists made it a hit.  Was the data an insurance policy?  Did it give the show a head start?

Absolutely.  And as Producers, anything you can do to mitigate risk for your investors is a good great thing.  So invest in data . . . get as much as you can and analyze it within an inch of its life . . . but invest even more in the artists themselves.  That’s the only way to guarantee success.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.