Driving Big Data

Reaping the upsides of Big Data in the media business will come to rely on a new kind of SUV.

Not a Sport Utility Vehicle, but a Single Unified View. The Big Data revolution and the boom in TV viewing on individual, handheld screens have unleashed hoards of new data on consumer behavior, from buying to viewing to zapping to Googling, in real time or on-demand or by Net-streaming, whether day-of air or three days later, or lately, a full month later.

The data sources are myriad and multiplying, covering overlapping segments of a mobile and fragmented audience more fickle than ever before, so it becomes all but impossible for mere mortals to make sense of this growing, mountainous mishmash.

What is needed to synthesize and sift insights from this data is an SUV, or a single unified view. This SUV would need to use one common currency to gather and sort through all the new ratings and measurement systems that are tracking consumers and viewers more than ever before, from Nielsen’s new Digital Audio Ratings service to Viacom Vantage, a new cross-platform ad-targeting service, comScore, Rentrak numbers and beyond.

That insight emerged from an April 5th 2016 panel on the future of advertising and audience measurement, hosted by Broadcasting & Cable and Multichannel News in New York. (You can watch it here.) The moderator, Broadcasting & Cable editor John Lafayette, kicked off the session by asking panelists to talk about what kinds of data they wish they could get their hands on.

“If we’re going to talk about new audiences, new currencies, and new ways of putting together an audience for an advertiser, a unified view of that, across the industry would help sponsors better track their advertising and its results,” as panel member Gabe Bevilacqua, a vice president with Viacom Vantage, put it during the onstage conversation.

I Second That Emotion

His call for an SUV was all but seconded by another panelist, John Curran, director of media analytics at RSG Media, which is the sponsor of this series of columns on Big Data Insights. As Curran said on the panel: “We’re a data-driven solutions firm, and so what we really care about is as much data as we can get our hands on, but also focusing on what’s the accepted currency in the industry.”

RSG Media offers one analytics engine, the Big Knowledge Platform, that combines and sifts through feeds from 50-some different data streams, from Nielsen daily ratings to Rentrak numbers, Hulu streams, Facebook feeds, Crackle downloads and more.

But the data flows are in such overabundance that machine-learning algorithms, of the proprietary kind developed by RSG Media for its Media Mantra automated-scheduling platform, are necessary if we humans are to keep up. “We develop these optimization tools that utilize machine learning algorithms that are literally taking in all of this data, running hundreds of thousands of simulations, and we produce the optimal result. It’s within minutes, literally,” Curran tells the audience in NewYork.

Howard Shimmel, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting, said “we’re going to get to a point, quickly, where marketers will know not just whether an ad got watched but also whether the viewer made a purchase as a result of seeing it. What I would love to see happen is real-time, reoccurring, always-on audience measurement of campaign effectiveness, which would then allow me to optimize not only against audience but against response,” Shimmel said.

Reach vs. Engagement

As Big Data lets marketers move beyond “look-alike” audiences to target “act-alike” viewers who share interests and watch the same shows, advertisers are more interested in not just reach but actual attention. “They’re very interested in understanding the performance of their ads,” said panel member Sean Muller, CEO of iSpot.tv, “things like, did people actually pay attention to the ad? Did people take a particular action? Did people buy the product? That is probably the biggest ask from ad buyers out there because, today, content and ad measurement are kind of coupled together, and we see a real separation forming between those (two).”

In the Big Data age, audience experts talk about “census-type measurement,” trying to measure and track the viewing habits of all viewers, not just a comparatively small, random sample. “It does require a census-type measurement to understand the kind of platform-agnostic, fragmented viewing, to basically be able to project and estimate that,” said Chris Wilson, executive vice president at comScore. “The most important thing would be an agreement on both the buy and sell side of what those advanced currencies or new metrics are that define success in a campaign.” He added: “It’s easy to buy data, right? It’s hard to actually do something with it.”

RSG Media’s scheduling-optimizer platform relies on the ability to improve as it proceeds, digesting incoming real-time data and assessing how it fared, say, in using as few promotional spots as possible to reach as many “influenceable” viewers as possible. “The algorithm really needs to learn from its mistakes, and it needs to learn from its successes,” RSG’s Curran explains.

Throwing Darts Blindfolded

As new viewing platforms proliferate, marketers must be able to track not just which platforms draw more viewers but, also, which ones spark more purchases. The same commercial triggers different responses depending on where people are when they see it. As iSpot.tv’s Muller said: “It’s critical. You’ve got to know where the audiences are, otherwise you’re throwing darts with a blindfold on.”

The dream of a Big Data SUV is achievable from purely a technological standpoint. The bigger question is whether market forces will accelerate or impede its development. For the TV networks, the adoption of one common currency across all viewing platforms would let them start charging full freight for the expanding audience of digital viewers.

For advertisers, it would let them assess which networks and which ads perform better at spurring purchases, so they can cut out the flops. Caught in the middle are ad agencies and online marketing firms whose work will be assessed and quantified more granularly than ever before—and the data-crunching firms like RSG Media that are racing to provide rival solutions to make sense of it all.


Big Data Projects on the Rise (But Data Use Could Be Better)
Big Data and the Future of Business
How the Super Bowl Uses Big Data to Change the Game
Big Data Is the New Ground Game: How Ted Cruz Won Iowa
Cloud, Mobile, and Big Data Analytics Drive Latest Rounds of Megadeals