Ranker Evolves from Internet Funhouse to Big Data Purveyor

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

Ranker Evolves from Internet Funhouse to Big Data Purveyor
Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

Ranker has made a profitable business of crowdsourcing lists and rankings on everything from action movies to ice cream flavors. Now, it wants to sell that data.

The Los Angeles-based media company announced this week it has surpassed 1 billion user votes for its lists and with that data will launch Ranker Insights, a new service targeting the marketers, studios and entertainment platforms vying for consumers' attention in a crowded online space.

"This marks the open-for-business milestone," David Yon, who was brought into the company to lead Ranker Insights, told dot.LA. "Ranker is now available for B2B data licensing."

Ranker Insights will be the company's next step in its evolution from a website where someone can vote on their favorite U.S. president, fast food burger and Marvel Cinematic Universe character to a purveyor of consumer information, feeding the entertainment industry as it navigates a world dominated by streaming.

But in an industry awash in analytics, Ranker may face challenges in convincing customers that its data are valid. Although the company released a white paper with some description of its backend processes, it will likely need to peel back the curtain to prospective buyers.

Ranker is likely to face questions about the steps it takes to comply with Europe's complex data protection rules (GDPR), for example, and exactly how it is able to separate the signal from the noise, media analyst Dan Rayburn told dot.LA.

"There may be value there but the data's only as good as the methodology and how it's being collected," Rayburn added. "Everybody's always questioning that."

Ranker says that savvy companies know how to value its hoard of data. The company boasts over 160 million statistically relevant relationships and correlations on a range of consumer likes from their hamburger preferences to their favorite city in South America.

Chief executive Clark Benson, a serial entrepreneur who started Ranker 10 years ago because he liked lists and rankings and wanted to democratize them on the internet, said that within five years Ranker Insights could eclipse revenues generated by Ranker.com.

Ranker currently makes most of its money from its website via ads from streaming services such as HBOMax or consumer companies like Unilever. It's been profitable for over four years and though it's raised $7 million in venture funding, Ranker has financed its recent growth with its own cash, Benson said.


What Makes Ranker's Data Unique

The value of Ranker's data, the company says, starts with its volume. Those 1 billion votes and counting – which imply three votes per second over the company's 10 years of operating – come from over 70 million users. 40 million users visit the site on a monthly basis, according to the company. Voters spend over 4 minutes per visit and vote about 11 times per list.

"A lot of TV networks and studios, pay-TV and video on-demand platforms are not yet fully leveraging the power of data," Yon said.

Although the company's focus has been on building up rankings around entertainment – TV, movies, music and celebrities – the site also includes subjects like food, sports, fashion and history. There's data on favorite skin care products, grapefruit drinks and beaches in Hawaii. This variety and volume means Ranker can extract insights based on correlations.

"You start to build a connected graph that's not just about people's TV preferences but interconnected preferences," Benson said. For example, discovering the kind of music that fans of "Breaking Bad" enjoy, or the type of car to which "Call of Duty" fans aspire.

Building upon its data collection, the company launched Watchworthy in March. It poured a "7-figure investment" into the app and directed most of the company's product and engineering resources there over the past year. And it's paid off. The app had 13,000 downloads in its first month and Benson said it could ultimately drive half of Ranker's direct sales. Already Watchworthy has attracted some of Ranker's biggest advertising deals to date, Benson added.

But the app that gives television show recommendations for viewers based on their preferences has a larger purpose. Ranker will sift through the data from its website and Watchworthy to feed its Insights service.

Who will use Ranker Insights?

Yon — who has been in the data licensing business for over a decade, including stints at entertainment software company Rovi and TiVo — sees Ranker's data as valuable information for a variety of entertainment companies.

Streamers could use it to improve their own content recommendations and to guide decisions on which shows to produce and/or acquire. Studios could use the data to make casting decisions. Talent agencies may be interested in insights on which actors and directors positively correlate with which kinds of content and brands, Yon said. And the data could help content makers and brands alike to target audiences.

"When you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars companies spend on data, it's a huge market," Yon said. Ranker has done one-off data deals in the past but now it's Yon's task to consistently tap that market.

Device-makers, too, may find the data useful, especially as voice-activated search becomes more common. Yon says these queries tend to be more subjective and granular than text-based searches, which brings challenges in providing useful results. Ranker's data, he says, has the depth and richness to help meet that challenge.

"Sometimes living in your own bubble and ecosystem doesn't give you the insights and visibility you need, such as what's the right content, the right recommendations, the right ad targeting," said Yon.

But being an outsider can also be a disadvantage. Ranker won't be able to take into account every factor that a content provider considers when making programming decisions.

"Many times a (streaming company's) recommendation engine will recommend certain content where the licensing window is expiring or where the licensing cost is cheaper," Rayburn said.

That gap could diminish the value of Ranker's data.

Rayburn noted the biggest thing ad-based streamers are missing is the ability to provide personalized, programmatic advertising. That requires an improvement in the backend technological infrastructure, not data the likes of which Ranker Insights can offer.

"They're (already) kind of drowning in data," Rayburn said.

But Ranker Insights is more likely to find demand, he suggested, from the less data-savvy companies like traditional networks and studios.

Yon's challenge will be to convince potential customers that Ranker can provide value. Based on his experience, he expects it may take up to a year to get into the full swing of data dealmaking.

"Everyone says they're agile, but they usually have 6-12 month roadmap commitments," he said. "If you knock on a company's door today, unless you're extremely lucky, you have to get on their radar, build some mindshare, make it easy for them to take a spin when they have time on their hands and eventually you build the business case and then you strike the kinds of deals we're going for."

The 6-12 months that Yon says he has to build a proof of concept for Ranker Insights starts Tuesday. If he succeeds, he is optimistic about its prospects.

"It could easily exceed the revenue that we generate from Ranker and Watchworthy," he said.


Sam Blake primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA


Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

“Millions of Dollars Completely Wasted”: Without Neuromarketing, Tech Firms’ Ads Get Lost in the Noise

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

“Millions of Dollars Completely Wasted”: Without Neuromarketing, Tech Firms’ Ads Get Lost in the Noise

At Super Bowl LVII, advertisers paid at least $7 million for 30–second ad spots, and even more if they didn’t have a favorable relationship with Fox. But the pricey commercials didn’t persuade everyone.

A recent report from advertising agency Kern and neuroscience marketing research outfit SalesBrain is attempting to answer that question using facial recognition and eye-tracking software.

Read moreShow less

Behind Her Empire: ComplYant Founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson on Helping Small Businesses

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

Behind Her Empire: ComplYant Founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson on Helping Small Businesses

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, ComplYant founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson discusses her journey to building a multimillion dollar business and making knowledge of taxes more accessible.

Read moreShow less

Taylor Swift Concert in the Metaverse? Ticketing Platform Token Is Using NFTs To Optimize Experiences

Andria Moore

Andria is the Social and Engagement Editor for dot.LA. She previously covered internet trends and pop culture for BuzzFeed, and has written for Insider, The Washington Post and the Motion Picture Association. She obtained her bachelor's in journalism from Auburn University and an M.S. in digital audience strategy from Arizona State University. In her free time, Andria can be found roaming LA's incredible food scene or lounging at the beach.

Taylor Swift Concert in the Metaverse? Ticketing Platform Token Is Using NFTs To Optimize Experiences
Evan Xie

When Taylor Swift announced her ‘Eras’ tour back in November, all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Swifties — many of whom were verified for the presale — were disappointed when Ticketmaster failed to secure them tickets, or even allow them to peruse ticketing options.

But the Taylor Swift fiasco is just one of the latest in a long line of complaints against the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster has dominated the event and concert space since its merger with Live Nation in 2010 with very few challengers — until now.

Adam Jones, founder and CEO of Token, a fan-first commerce platform for events, said he has the platform and the tech ready to take it on. First and foremost, with Token, Jones is creating a system where there are no queues. In other words, fans know immediately which events are sold out and where.

“We come in very fortunate to have a modern, scalable tech stack that's not going to have all these outages or things being down,” Jones said. “That's step one. The other thing is we’re being aggressively transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So with the Taylor Swift thing…you would know in real time if you actually have a chance of getting the tickets.”

Here’s how it works: Users register for Token’s app and then purchase tickets to either an in-person event, or an event in the metaverse through Animal Concerts. The purchased ticket automatically shows up in the form of a mintable NFT, which can then be used toward merchandise purchases, other ticketed events or, Adams’s hope for the future — external rewards like airline travel. The more active a user is on the site, the more valuable their NFT becomes.

Ticketmaster has dominated the music industry for so long because of its association with big name artists. To compete, Token is working on gaining access to their own slew of popular artists. They recently entered into a partnership with Animal Concerts, a live and non-live event experiences platform that houses artists like Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Robin Thicke.

“You'll see they do all the metaverse side of the house,” Jones said. “And we're going to be the [real-life] web3 sides of the house.”

In addition, Token prides itself on working with the artists selling on their platform to set up the best system for their fanbase, devoid of hefty prices and additional fees — something Ticketmaster users have often complained about. Jones believes where Ticketmaster fails, Token thrives. The app incentivizes users to share more data about their interests, venues and artists by operating on a kind of points system in the form of mintable NFTs.

“We can actually take the dataset and say there’s 100 million people in the globe that love Taylor Swift, so imagine she’s going on tour and we ask [the user], ‘Would you go to see her in Detroit?’ And imagine this place has 30,000 seats, but 100,000 people clicked ‘yes,’” he explained. “So you can actually inform the user before anything even happens, right? About what their options are and where to get it.”

Tixr, a Santa-Monica based ticketing app, was founded on the idea that modern ticketing platforms were “living in the legacy of the past.” They plan to attract users by offering them exclusive access to ticketed events that aren’t in Ticketmaster’s registry.

“It melts commerce that's beyond ticketing…to allow fans to experience and purchase things that don't necessarily have to do with tickets,” said Tixr CEO and Founder Robert Davari. “So merchandise, and experiences, and hospitality and stuff like that are all elegantly melded into this one, content driven interface.”

Tixr sells tickets to exclusive concerts like a Tyga performance at a night club in Arizona, general in-person festivals like ComplexCon, and partners with local vendors like The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to sell tickets to the races. Plus, Davari said it’s equipped to handle high-demand, so customers aren’t spending hours waiting in digital queues.

Like Token, Tixr has also found success with a rewards program — in the form of fan marketing.

“There's nothing more powerful in the core of any event, brand, any live entertainment, [than] the community behind it,” Davari said. “So we build technology to empower those fans and to reward them for bringing their friends and spreading the word.”

Basically, if a user gets a friend to purchase tickets to an event, then the original user gets rewarded in the form of discounts or upgrades.

Coupled with their platforms’ ability to handle high-demand events, both Jones and Davari believe their platforms have what it takes to take on Ticketmaster. Expansion into the metaverse, they think, will also help even the playing field.

“So imagine you can't go to Taylor Swift,” Jones said. “What if you could purchase an exclusive to actually go to that exact same show over the metaverse? An artist’s whole world can expand past the stage itself.”

With the way ticketing for events works now, obviously not everyone always gets the exact price, venue or date they want. There are “winners and losers.” Jones’s hope is that by expanding beyond in-person events, there can be more winners.

“If there’s 100,000 people who want to go to one show and there's 37,000 seats, 70,000 are out,” he said. “You can't fight that. But what we can do is start to give them other opportunities to do things in a different way and actually still participate.”

Jones and Davari both teased that their platforms have some exciting developments in the works, but for now both Token and Tixr are set on making their own space within the industry.

“We simply want to advance this industry and make it more efficient and more pleasurable for fans to buy,” Davari said. “That's it.”