Oscars 2013: Columbus-based data science firm predicts the Academy AwardsWritten by James A. Molnar | The Gold Knight | firstname.lastname@example.org
A Columbus-based data science firm is getting into the Oscar predicting game.
Using data and algorithms, a team at Farsite is putting its skills to the test for the biggest awards show of the year.
The team launched FarsiteForecast.com on Jan. 10, the day nominations were announced for the 85th Academy Awards. The site includes predicted winners in the top categories, along with the odds of each winning.
Leading the effort is Conor Gaughan, chief strategy officer at Farsite.
“It’s a fun, different way to use all of the amazing data that’s out there as it applies to the entertainment world,” Gaughan said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star.
“When we looked at the landscape for 2013 and what was coming up … the Oscars is such a pivotal pop culture event,” he said. “We thought what better way to talk about the media and entertainment industry and pop culture trend … and apply this really important, burgeoning technology around data science to help people learn about data science in a way that’s fun and interesting.”
In the lead for Best Picture is Ben Affleck’s film “Argo,” according to Farsite’s data as of press time (see charts to the right for full predictions).
Gaughan said another Oscar race is also interesting.
“The Best Supporting Actor race is turning out to be one of the closest,” he said. “Although, I think when we look back after the Oscars, folks are really going to find the Best Picture race to be one of the most interesting we’ve had in the last 10 or so years.”
“Lincoln” was originally seen as the Oscar front-runner, especially after Affleck was not nominated for Best Director.
However, Gaughan points to recent entertainment guilds that have honored Affleck and “Argo,” showing a swell of support for the director and his film.
“Best Picture has been the most active race, particularly following the last two weeks,” Gaughan said, referring to recent wins for “Argo” at the Producers Guild Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Directors Guild Awards.
“From early in November through a week and a half ago even two weeks ago, ‘Lincoln’ has stayed pretty consistent — not just as a leader, but pretty consistent from a probability perspective — in the race leadership role,” Gaughan said. “It wasn’t really until, frankly, the Producers Guild Awards that ‘Argo’ had a spike.”
The forecast for an “Argo” win is 42.1 percent, with “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Amour” rounding out the top three (“Lincoln” has 9 percent).
Other races Farsite is predicting include the directing and acting categories. Steven Spielberg is leading the directing race with 81.8 percent. Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor), Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress) and Anne Hathaway (Best Supporting Actress) look poised to win their respective categories by large margins. In the Best Supporting Actor category, Christoph Waltz has a 1.4 percent lead over Tommy Lee Jones.
Founded in 2007, Farsite works in a number of industries and uses data to help companies improve their bottom lines, said CEO Michael Gold.
“First and foremost, we’re a data science firm so our company takes big data and builds a predictive and advanced analytic model to empower companies to make decisions to improve revenue [and] decrease cost,” said Gold, 32, who has been with the company since its founding.
Gold said predicting the Oscars was Gaughan’s idea; it was a way to demonstrate Farsite’s value to the entertainment industry.
“When I came on board to Farsite and joined Michael’s team, one of the things I wanted to do was help bridge these two worlds,” said Gaughan, 32, whose background is in the media and entertainment business. “This seemed like the perfect project to do it.”
Many have asked what the “secret sauce” is to Farsite’s predictions.
“We have 80 years of movie data and 40 years of Oscars-specific data,” Gold said. “A part of that is who has won in the past, total nominations.” Real-time feedback and buzz is also used, he said.
“Sometimes, momentums shift throughout an awards season,” Gold said. “I think we’re definitely seeing that this year between ‘Argo’ and ‘Lincoln.’”
Once the Oscars are over, Gaughan said Farsite may try to tackle other projects such as March Madness.
Gold said forecasting the box office take for movies would also be coming up on the site.
Farsite is not the only company doing data-driven predicting.
Most recently, New York Times blogger and statistician Nate Silver correctly predicted the results of the 2012 presidential election, after a year full of statistics, polling and number crunching.
Now the team at Farsite is looking to see how it fares come Oscar Sunday.
However, an Oscars expert cautions about the use of stats to predict the race.
“They only take you so far,” said Sasha Stone, founder of AwardsDaily.com; Stone has covered the Oscars race season-by-season for more than decade.
“Every weird year carries its own precedent,” she said in an email. “Like you can’t say, ‘No way will “Argo” win because it will have to make history three different ways to do so.’ But if it does make history it becomes its own stat.
“History around the awards race has evolved so dramatically that you really can’t compare this year with even 10 years ago,” she said. “Human emotion is always unpredictable at the end of the day.”
On Feb. 24, Oscar fans and Farsite will learn how predictable the Oscars can be.
Read more and enter our Prediction Challenge: STAR @ THE ACADEMY AWARDS
Tags: Academy Awards, argo, AwardsDaily.com, Ben Affleck, Best Picture, Columbus, Conor Gaughan, data science, Farsite, Farsite Forecast, guild awards, James A. Molnar, lincoln, Michael Gold, Nate Silver, Oscars, predictions, Sasha Stone, stats, The Gold Knight, The Oscars