Media companies must prepare for the “Internet of Things” with Big Data


So, I’m still humming “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”

A month later, the song is still stuck in my head. As it happens, over the holidays, we went to see the film, Saving Mr. Banks. This is the story about how Walt Disney convinced the author of Mary Poppins to sell him the rights to the story so he could create the classic 1964 film.

The Disney movie reminded me of one of my first trips to Walt Disney World. I remember my parents taking me to the Carousel of Progress and telling me it debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair. Hmmm. There’s 1964 again!

The Carousel showcased family life in several different eras, ending with the “World of Tomorrow” or what the vision of home life would be in the future.

Fast forward to 2014, and we are about to be living in a world of tomorrow that maybe even Disney couldn’t quite imagine. We have the video phones that Disney showcased, and many new and improved ways of communication between people across the planet.

But Disney never predicted our things would be communicating, too.

The viral video, “What does the fox say?” offers a clue.  

This tongue-in-cheek video, which literally questions the sound a fox makes, went viral last September. But instead of imagining what the fox says, how about we imagine what your things could say about you.

In the not-so-distant future, devices like your coffee pot will begin communicating through the “Internet of things.” What would your coffee pot say about you? Google certainly wants to know what your coffee pot says. 

  • It wants to know what time you get up and have you first cup (i.e. what time to serve up today’s news). 

  • It wants to know you made three pots, so it can serve up health warnings about too much caffeine.  

  • And it wants to know you prefer Starbucks coffee, so it can send you a great offer on Dunkin’ Donuts latest flavour.

Google is betting in the Internet of things. Consider: The Internet giant just bought Nest for US$3 billion. Why would a company as large and influential as Google buy a thermostat company? Because it is interested in the data that connected devices can deliver. 

The Nest thermostat is just the beginning. It’s really all about Big Data.  

What exactly is the Internet of things? McKinsey Quarterly explained it back in 2010:

“In most organisations, information travels along familiar routes. Proprietary information is lodged in databases and analysed in reports and then rises up the management chain. Information also originates externally — gathered from public sources, harvested from the Internet, or purchased from information suppliers,” write Michael Chui, Markus Löffler, and Roger Roberts.

“But the predictable pathways of information are changing,” they continue. “The physical world itself is becoming a type of information system. In what’s called the Internet of Things, sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects — from roadways to pacemakers — are linked through wired and wireless networks, often using the same Internet Protocol (IP) that connects the Internet.

“These networks churn out huge volumes of data that flow to computers for analysis,” the trio writes. “When objects can both sense the environment and communicate, they become tools for understanding complexity and responding to it swiftly. What’s revolutionary in all this is that these physical information systems are now beginning to be deployed, and some of them even work largely without human intervention.”

Our world of tomorrow will be centered on communication. Communication, not just between people but between things.

Our refrigerator will be able to tell us that the milk has gone bad — and automatically order more. Our houses will adjust the room (temperature, lighting, etc.) to our individual desires as soon as we enter. Machines will self-diagnose problems and actively repair themselves.

All that communication between things about people really adds up to trillions of bytes of Big Data. Google got into the game because it, like many large tech organisations, wants to be ready to slice and dice everything about your life.

In another area of development, place-based information will become common. The deployment of iBeacon technology will allow customised messaging at exactly the right moment.

Just a few days ago, Zebra announced the Zatar platform. Zebra’s Zatar platform will marry Zebra’s cloud-based Internet of things with location-based iBeacon technology.

“The Zatar platform provides the capability to integrate iBeacon-based location services and in-store displays to deliver personalised messaging to consumers,” said Phil Gerskovich, senior vice president of New Growth Platforms for Zebra Technologies. “As iBeacon technology becomes more widely deployed, retailers will have an immediate opportunity to transform consumer shopping experiences by integrating location services and display messaging in their stores with minimal investment.”

What will happen when the “place Internet” (iBeacon, etc.) and the “Internet of things” collide?

According to Bill Wasik, senior editor at Wired: “In our houses, cars, and factories, we’re surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about how we live and what we do. Now they are beginning to talk to one another. Soon we’ll be able to choreograph them to respond to our needs, solve our problems, even save our lives.” 

How can media companies get ready for the Internet of things, which will allow them to understand human behaviour? We will need to be ready to tap into the Big Data that comes from billions of “conversations” between things and their humans. After all, media companies need to be all about satisfying their audiences.

Imagine a morning when the Internet-connected coffee pot senses, through the iBeacon of John Smith’s iPhone, that he is waking up.

The coffee pot knows it is time to start brewing. The coffee pot would notify media that it is time to send the latest updates and, in essence, create customised, real-time news for a particular individual.

Perhaps the first thing the homeowner sees is a news update from Twitter scrolling on his or her steaming coffee mug. The coffee pot automatically adds coffee to the grocery list, a very targeted advertising message suggests a local coffee house’s beans, and a coupon is delivered to John’s virtual wallet as he enters the store.

Information could follow John Smith throughout his morning routine. The customised news updates follow to the bathroom mirror and then to the car. Corning envisioned just such a future in its “A Day Made of Glass” video.

But really, media needs to start thinking beyond the screen. Media companies will not be producing Web sites, mobile sites, or even tablet experiences, but instead be prepared to give individualised, customised information and products at the tight time and place.

Mitch Joel presented an interesting blog article that challenged media companies to move past the screen:

“Brands will need to not only leverage someone else’s platform to deliver their message, but they will need to build platforms of their own. Transient media moments does not equal a strong and profound place to deliver an advertising message.

“In short,” he continues, “the past century may have been about maximising space and repetition to drive brand awareness, but the next half century could well be about advertising taking on a smaller position in the expanding marketing sphere, as brands create loyalty not through impressions but by creating tools, applications, physical devices, true utility, and more robust loyalty extensions that make them more valuable in a consumer’s life.”

So, think back to Disney’s Carousel of Progress, and engage that same imagination that Uncle Walt had to envision the future that is nearly upon us — and how that will impact our lives, our businesses, and our quality of life.

Take a few minutes. Pour a cup of coffee. Then, imagine

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