Legacy media and entertainment giants are desperately trying to adapt to changing consumer-viewing habits, and as part of that effort, they are turning to big data as a way to gain insights into consumer patterns and trends.

Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures, which has struggled to compete at the box office over the last five years, recently contracted with Amazon.com Inc. and data analytics firm Teradata to tabulate what Paramount refers to as “years of data” captured by the studio regarding how consumers have interacted with its content online. That information includes the types of people streaming the studio’s movies, downloading its apps, and clicking its ads. The deal is seen as a way to better inform its marketing and distribution arms.

What might seem like a step forward in terms of business strategy for an old-line Hollywood studio, it’s really just an evolution, said Van Toffler, co-founder of digital media startup Gunpowder & Sky and former president of Viacom’s MTV.

“Data has always been a factor in the decision-making part of the creative process,” he said. “It’s much more abundant today. We know much more now.”

Toffler’s Playa Vista-based company is backed by Otter Media Inc., a joint venture of AT&T Inc. and Chernin Group, and was co-founded with Floris Bauer, former global head of corporate development and strategy at Endomol Shine Group. It is dedicated to furthering the ways data can be used to create types of content. As part of a slew of hires, Gunpowder & Sky announced last month that it has brought on Ryan Nugent, a former creative insights and audience development executive at YouTube, as vice president of content strategy.

A month after its founding in January, Gunpowder & Sky invested an undisclosed amount in Seattle’s Cut as part of that firm’s Series A round. The 2-year-old short-form content studio creates original videos designed to be shared across social media platforms.

Cut is also developing three series for Comcast Corp.’s Watchables Exclusives, an online and mobile platform targeting millennials that also features content created by Santa Monica’s Mitú Inc. and Refinery29. The platform is an extension of last year’s Watchables, which hosts a mixture of news and lifestyle content from media firms such as Defy, BuzzFeed, Vice, and Tastemade.

The first series Cut created for the platform is “How to Human,” a collection of irreverent three-minute videos designed to help people through a variety of real-life scenarios. Video titles for the series, which debuted in August, include “How to Buy Drugs” and “How to Break Up With Someone.”

Founder Michael Gaston said the company used online search data from Google not to greenlight the series itself but to discover the types of content that would be most relevant for its target audience.

“Data is both the most important thing and also not important at all,” he said. “Definitely leverage data, but don’t be a slave to it. Great storytelling is what always moves people the most.”

Gaston honed the craft of consumer data analysis for five years as a digital marketer at internet marketing company Stripes39 in Seattle.

Elsewhere, CBS Television’s on-demand streaming platform, CBS All Access, allows the firm to gain insights about viewing habits à la Netflix Inc., the company that changed the game when it comes to using data to inform content creation and distribution. CBS All Access has already reached 2 million subscribers and is on pace to reach 4 million by 2020, according to recent comments from CBS Chairman and Chief Executive Leslie Moonves.

But if other networks follow suit and launch their own platforms, they might make it more difficult for consumers to find their favorite shows, said Michael D. Smith, a professor of information technology and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.

“A centralized service, such as Hulu, provides the networks with a stronger way to compete with Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube, than what networks can get from individual OTT platforms,” he said.

Santa Monica’s Hulu, which was valued at $5.8 billion in August after Time Warner’s $583 million investment, also counts Walt Disney Co., NBCUniversal, and 20th Century Fox Film Corp. as financial backers. Smith said the subscription streaming service is underutilized by those studios, which use the platform to host their content.

“They’re not getting the data from Hulu they should be getting,” said Smith.

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