State of big data for media companies: bridging legacy, digital cultures

By Caroline Lees

No subject touches the essence of the transition of media companies — from enterprises based on serendipity and gut-based decisions to ones based on analytics — than Big Data. 

Peter Barron, director of communications and public affairs at Google, EMEA, introduced the INMA Big Data for Media conference in London today by saying that it is biggest yet: “This event is not just about data journalism. It is everything you need to know about engaging audiences through smarter use of data.”

Barron outlined ways that Google is trying to be helpful to media industry:

Product development: Google is doing a wide range of fusion tables, analytics, Google cloud platform, as well as using Google’s internal tools and making them useful to the broader media industry.

“Education and training is a big area,” Barron said. “We are doing a lot of work and workshops with newsrooms around the world to help them get to grips with these tools. We are trying to bring them in a meaningful way to newsrooms around the world.”

The third way that Google is supporting the media industry is by supporting and stimulating innovation. Barron explained that there is a variety ways Google can do this, such as grants and funding awards such as the data journalism awards: “It is also about supporting events like this event today.”  

Martha Stone, CEO World Newsmedia Network introduced the Big Data for Media Survey of 57 respondents from 29 companies, mostly from primarily newspaper companies.

The survey revealed that most respondents are launching their Big Data strategies about now:

  • 16 respondents launched their strategy last year.

  • 17 are launching in 2015.

  • 7 respondents launched three to five years ago.

The second key finding was that audience analytics was considered the most important business side or journalism-side initiative with Big Data:

  • 16 respondents said audience analytics.

  • 10 said data journalism.

  • 9 said audience segmentation.

Stone acknowledged there is still no agreed definition of Big Data for media. The standard definition, she said, is the “three Vs: volume, velocity and variety of data.” She said the challenge for this conference would be to agree on a definition of Big Data, suitable for media industry.

“I would like to add a fourth V: value. Business insights and revenue from data. If there is any focus of this conference, it is the value of data,” she said. 

Stone outlined key areas where the media could use Big Data, in particular product development: “Product development is the No. 1 area where we can benefit from Big Data and analytics.”

Earl Wilkinson, executive director and CEO of INMA, offered a global view of Big Data in Media.

“This conference is about what adds value,” he said.  “I want to bring together some best practices.”

Wilkinson described the current state of the media as “two ends of a rope burning towards each other.”

“On one end are legacy media companies, like most of you in this room, on the other end are digital media companies,” he said.

Legacy media companies “are companies that think and innovate through heart and soul, at the other end, digital companies are making value judgements.”

At digital companies it is often about “raw eyeballs visiting a site,” he said.

Data is crucial to building bridges between the two cultures, Wilkinson said. He outlined four key technology trends for news publishers: “Connectivity, personal data centres, access ownership, and proliferation of screens as devices proliferate.”

“I believe we are drowning in information today. In the future, it is going to be about simplification and become the signal in all the noise, becoming a trusted voice.” 

Wilkinson said that INMA was focusing on Big Data issues in response to requests from its members: “We asked our members what we need to be focusing on and they said mobile, data, data analytics.

“I believe that Big Data is bang on the centre of the burning rope,” he said. “It is the tension between data analytics and human judgement. I believe that data is one of the four priorities for news publishers, and I believe we are under-selling it,”

About Caroline Lees

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