On the Cutting Edge with Yves Bergquist

Yves Bergquist is on the cutting edge. As an AI researcher and Director of the AI and Neuroscience in Media Project at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, where they’re seeking to find out more about the “cognitive relationship between stories and minds.” He is also the Founder and CEO of Corto, a seed-stage startup building content and audience intelligence tools for the media industry.

Basically, he’s in the cross-hairs of the intersection of technology and media – which is exactly where he wants to be. “My whole journey around it was a journey of putting together statistics and my passion for media entertainment.”

He joined us on Mission Daily to talk about technology, story, and some of the exciting advancements we can expect in the near future. 

What exactly is Corto? In simple terms – a game changer for the movie industry. “We have a database of about 10,000 scripts that we go out to. It’s a machine driven application. It goes out and say, ‘Hey, this script that you gave me is like these five or six scripts on these dimensions.’ It tells us things like: the main characters have these similar emotional journeys, overall the script has this tonality, or the character relationships that matter most have this tonality. It’s really measuring everything that the human mind will not gravitate to when it’s trying to comp things. I’ll give you an example. We’re working for a studio on a big movie. Their producers comped that spy movie with other spy movies, which was very natural. You have a spy movie, you’re like, ‘It’s like Bond and the Bourne Identity and stuff like that.’ The problem is, that doesn’t really capture what the story is. That captures what the genre is, what type of film is, and that’s substantial. It’s not meaningless. But there’s this enormous amount of attributes about this script that have nothing to do with the spy genre that have to do with the flavor of the script, and what it’s like, and the flavor of the characters. That is very, very important because it’s going to draw an audience that isn’t necessarily a core spy movie fan audience, but is really going to vibe with the characters. They’re really going to vibe with what the film is about. When you’re doing comps without us, you’re limiting yourself. That really ignores a lot of audience segments that are going to gravitate towards certain movies based on extraneous attributes that have nothing to do with the genre.”

That’s where Corto steps in. “What we do is we have the machine representation of the comps. Then we go out to social media, and we look at, ‘Okay, what are the audiences for these comps?’ It’s a very 360-degree view of: what is your addressable audience? What is the comps for this script? What are the audiences for the comps? We go to Reddit, Twitter, Facebook – we go everywhere we can – to look at how many are there? How passionate are they about these kinds of attributes that are in your script? How do you talk to them in a way that convinces them to go watch your TV show or see your movie? We’re really trying to be as scientific as possible, as granular as possible, in really nailing down very granular audience segments.”

These questions are at the center of the ETC. “I came to the center really by chance. I became aware of their activities, and who was a member, and the level of representation at the center is insane. The board is all the CTOs of all the Hollywood studios. You have very, very senior executives from companies like Cisco and Microsoft and Technicolor. Ubiquity, Grace Note, Nielsen, et cetera. They’re the most senior executives imaginable in the technical organization for all these organizations. You have this incredible opportunity to, one, really have a conversation on an industry-wide basis with all the senior stakeholders at one table, which is really amazing.”

Essentially, it’s a roundtable like no other. “There’s this great opportunity to discuss challenges and solutions openly, and then to conduct research and prototype solutions to these problems.  I don’t know any other organization where you can talk to an entire industry around the table. You go to the board meeting of ETC, you have all of the CTOs of the five studios. You have some of the most senior executives in companies like Cisco and Microsoft, Technicolor,  and Ubiquity – some really, really big services companies to the entertainment industry. The conversation is right there about what problems do they have, and what opportunities we would have to develop something that would solve these problems on a massive scale. If you look at a studio, a studio will spend billions of dollars marketing movies. If you make a 10% improvement on that across five studios you can imagine how massive your impact is. You have a one-stop shop for the problem definition, and then you go and prototype solutions, and then you have a one-stop shop for applying these solutions to the industry as a whole. It’s really amazing, because ETC has one foot in academia and one foot in industry, where you have the freedom of academia, where we can try new things and push the limits and draw on all the resources that are across USC, not just at the School of Cinematic Arts, which ETC is a part of, but also the engineering school, the neuroscience school, et cetera. You have one foot in academia. You have all the resources of academia, all the freedom of academia. Then you have all the accountability of industry, where if you develop some things that are really interesting and disruptive for the industry that solve a real problem, then you have an opportunity to implement at the level of an industry, which is really amazing. It’s a very, very special place. It’s the highest level of conversation about technology and media. It’s just fun. It’s the most exciting sandbox in media, the ETC.”

Everything is about narrative. No matter what questions arise, Yves says it always comes down to narrative. “What the media industry is about, the product of the media industry, is stories and narratives. If you’re in marketing, advertising, news, certainly entertainment, you’re telling stories. You’re telling stories that you’re really hoping are going to resonate with audiences. What you’re really selling is brain states. I like to tell people that media is neuroscience without neuroscientists because you’re making and selling brain states without any kind of notion of neuroscience. What we’re doing is we’re like, ‘Hey, wait a minute. What happens if we try to really understand what is essentially neuroscience in terms of neuroscience and artificial intelligence?’ That, I think, is a very disruptive way to think about it, because you’re really going back to first principles of the media industry, which is neuroscience, and storytelling.”

To hear more from Yves, check out the full interview on Mission Daily here.

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