Social media users have become increasingly aware that any incriminating content they post online can come back to haunt them. The heightened risk of controversial material jeopardizing employment prospects or having other social ramifications has led many users to proceed with caution before posting on the web.

However, despite the enhanced understanding of the implications of social media use, many users are still unaware of the ways that the Big Data inherent in our online activity is used to shape the world around us.

The rise of Big Data has allowed businesses to analyze large quantities of data and assess consumer preferences in more efficient ways than ever before. This is especially true in its application within the entertainment industry — but its use here has recently become a point of contention.

According to a recent New York Times article, the acclaimed Netflix original series House of Cards openly analyzed trends and opinions on social media to inform major decisions about the show, including the casting of Kevin Spacey and the hiring of director David Fincher.

Information garnered from Netflix and various social media sites about viewer preferences, downloads, and watching patterns enabled executives to feel confident about the show’s appeal before it was even available to the public. In this case, it seems to have paid off, as the series has since received many accolades and a great deal of recognition.

As the television watching experience becomes more personalized and data becomes more readily available, there are signs that predictive analytics will have a growing role in the development of shows of the future. Yet, while the success of House of Cards is undeniable and Big Data can, in cases like this, accurately reveal what has been successful in the past, there is some uncertainty about its ability to consistently provide insight into the direction shows should move in for years to come.

Using this data to shape programs has received criticism for its potential to stifle creativity within the industry and lead to recycling of content already proven to resonate with viewers — in lieu of new ideas.

Many speculate that Big Data alone cannot be relied upon to provide enough refreshing new content to meet consumer demands. Aberdeen’s Matthew Grant writes, “Big Data allows us to draw conclusions from massive data sets, but it can’t provide the idiosyncratic insights that make real innovation possible.”

While this observation isn’t necessarily referring to the entertainment industry itself, the logic certainly applies here: Big Data alone may provide enough information to develop a product that people will watch and enjoy, but it is harder to say if it can create something truly groundbreaking.

Utilizing both big and small data may be the key to producing movies and shows that are original, yet still informed by public preferences and trends. How exactly to balance the two is yet to be determined, but if you have an idea that entertainment companies should consider when creating the next hit show, just post about it online: They’ll be listening.

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