The Leitmotif of the first Big TV Conference, held in New York City in September, revolved around data and its impact on the TV ecosystem. Data is playing a greater role in understanding what is resonating with viewers and is becoming, by extension, a crucial part of the creative process — which includes innovation.
"We have to prepare for a different marketplace with streaming, cord-cutting, and much more data," said Jon Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer at Discovery. This often requires creating internal teams focused strictly on the future. "We have a team within Discovery that [is] further along than we [are], to position [us] better for the future," he noted.
For Lisa Heimann, executive vice president, corporate research and strategy, at NBCUniversal, the key question to ask about data is, "Which data is good at answering what questions? No one data source is good for [everything]." In some cases, for example, a census data set might provide the needed insight; in other cases, it might be panel data. Often, a mix of several data sources is the best option. "The key is how we are looking at and using that data," she added. "Sometimes we look at specific sources and other times we rely on our data science group using machine learning and AI."
And with today's overabundance of data, there needs to be a strategy around getting the most out of that data. "We have more data than we know what to do with. We have 10 times the amount of data than we had 10 years ago," said Courtney Thomasma, executive director, BBC America, at AMC Networks. "There is the danger of getting lost in the noise and quantity of data." So, she advises ensuring that there's a plan for who can access which data and how to best fuse it. Her own solution is to appoint "more experienced research minds to strategize the data," which I heartily support.
Of course, no discussion on data is complete without covering measurement. One of the key issues in that area is transparency. In fact, advertisers are demanding it from content providers from the highest levels. "Transparency of data for cross-platform measurement and the creation of compelling content — these are CEO-level questions," said Adam Rattner, executive vice president, managing director, Samsung, at Starcom. "Until we get great measurement, it will be hard to monetize [content]."
The ability to measure across platforms at all is still a significant industry challenge. "Clients want single-source measurement to capture viewers across all screens," said Sam Armando, senior vice president, national video intelligence and investment, at Spark Foundry. "We have a lot more pieces [of data than ever], but the pieces don't fit together."
There is one area of measurement where considerable work is being done to track and quantify how people discover and sample shows. We're learning "how they catch up, which programs they stick with, and which ones they don't," noted NBCUniversal's Heimann. "Content is forever now. How can we optimize it? Sometimes it is more down the road."
And with all of the content options available today, and all the time viewers spend with that varied content, the numbers don't have to be big for a show to be considered a success. Passion for a show counts, which requires a "holistic sense of who our audiences are and weighting which audiences are most valuable for us," AMC Networks' Thomasma said. Using research insights from one passionate show can often lead to the next. That approach helped BBC America determine that Killing Eve was a good replacement when Orphan Black, with its passionate fan base, ended its run.
Knowing what fans are passionate about comes back to data, of course. Content producers need to understand what will captivate today's audiences. Donna D'Alessandro, senior vice president, programming and strategy insights, for Discovery, said the challenge is the "need to look fresh and real in speaking to a consumer right now" because programmers only have a short window to engage the viewer. "If a viewer turns it on and thinks, it's not for me, they will turn it off and never come back," she said.
Robert Weisbord, chief revenue officer of Sinclair Broadcast Group, echoed that sentiment: "There has to be something unique about the offering."
Fortunately, content producers aren't going it alone. Researchers are stepping up to meet advertiser needs. Tom Ziangas, senior vice president, research, at AMC Networks, is committed to working closely with agency partners to address this challenge, as well as close the loop in the consumer journey. "It is all about collaboration," he said. "We must figure it out together — what are the best practices and [are we] learning from our mistakes?"
Don Robert, executive vice president at A+E Networks, confirmed that approach. "We take a consultative approach to try and figure it out. We are very committed and believe in the power of TV."
With all of the challenges and opportunities in this Brave New World of Media, Ziangas summed it up rather succinctly. "We are a lot smarter and a lot dumber," he quipped. That rings true to me. For all of the data acumen and insights we harvest, sometimes it seems as if we have more questions than answers. And that, perhaps, is the biggest challenge of all.
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