More than 200 people from 30 countries will join together in New York City this week across two conferences and a study tour to explore what Big Data means to the news media industry right now. 

Martha Stone, CEO of World Newsmedia Network (WNMN), is the founder and organiser of Big Data for Media Week, which debuted in 2012. 

“When we started planning this conference in 2012, very little had materialised in terms of adequate analytical technology, advertising targeting techniques and infrastructure, etc.,” Stone says. “In other words, Big Data for Media was but a dream.

“Fast forward to 2016, and some of the biggest and smallest media brands around the world are executing audience analytics, data journalism, ad targeting, and other sophisticated data strategies. Media companies are investing millions in this strategy. Four years ago, only a handful of data scientists were embedded in media companies. Today, media companies are hiring several or even a dozen data scientists and/or data analysts to execute the data strategy.”

More than 200 people from 30 countries are attending Big Data for Media Week this week.
More than 200 people from 30 countries are attending Big Data for Media Week this week.

The conference started in 2012 with a variety of early adopters and visionaries in the media industry, as well as consultants and academia in attendance. Speakers were big names that are known for being forward thinking: Huffington Post, The Financial Times, BuzzFeed, and Associated Media.

“Now speakers come from mainstream media and have been building their strategies and data department for several years, going from a tech department with marching orders to integrate all databases, to now actually leveraging the integrated database for audience insights and revenue making,” Stone says.

INMA joined in as WNMN’s partner for Big Data for Media Week two years ago. Earl Wilkinson, executive director and CEO of INMA, says last year, senior-level newspaper executives were evaluating the subject of Big Data: “What is it? Where does it fit in our company? This year, we seem to have more people who are practitioners looking for tools of the trade and how to optimise it. I see a very different crowd, year to year.”

Wilkinson sees media companies in one of three “lanes,” as he calls them, when it comes to Big Data — the fast lane, medium lane, slow lane.

“To my eye, only the digital media companies are in the fast lane,” Wilkinson says. “Their cultural DNA is built on using next-generation data analytics in management decision-making, editorial decision-making, audience development, and advertising sales. I would say the high end of legacy media companies are in the medium lane with a great battle between digital and legacy cultures taking place — with evidence of digital cultures winning the day. The vast majority of news media companies are in the slow lane with small victories like A/B testing for subscription optimisation.

“The issues related to Big Data depend on which lane you’re in. If you’re in the slow lane, you need quick victories to prove the concept inside legacy cultures. Show CEOs and editors how data analytics can improve results or solve problems — and then wow them visually with dashboards. For bigger companies more firmly in that medium lane, they are turning the corner now and looking to digital companies for inspiration to take it to the next level.”

Stone sees culture and resources as the two biggest issues facing media companies as they incorporate Big Data strategies into their workplace.

“How can already strapped media companies invest in a potentially multi-million dollar strategy to make the customer, ergo audience analytics, the center of the company's strategy?” she asks. “Further, culture prevents them from actually executing the strategy. To infiltrate every bastion of the media company (advertising, marketing, journalism, finance, etc.), the data department must get total access by the company's top brass. The companies that are most successful at this are those that have a chief data officer on the board level of media companies, like the Financial Times.”

INMA has done study tours in Silicon Valley, New York City, and London in past years, but this is the first such tour focused on Big Data.

“If a conference is good at covering the breadth of a subject, a study tour is good at covering the depth,” Wilkinson says. “We hope a deep dive into what’s happening at News Corp, Hearst, ProPublica, Bloomberg, and others will provide a dimension otherwise difficult to get in a conference.”

The study tour goes deep into the issues surrounding the development, challenges, and opportunities of building a data operation in a media company,” Stone says. “Study tour delegates are looking for inspiration to build their own data departments and to learn from the successes and failures. Some of the components they are interested in are tools, training, recruiting, department organization, technology vendors, case studies, and hot-button issues like privacy, culture and resource guidelines.”

Follow Big Data Media Week here all week and via #bigdatastudytour and #bigdatamedia.