Broadcast Article Sept 2011

Data, data everywhere but not much time to think….

Richard Marks


Sometimes the problem isn’t lack of information about the success of a TV series or advertising campaign but actually knowing too much. Data is now hitting us from every direction – server data, Return Path data from PVRs, social media data, in house CRM data…..

Data that gives genuine insights about a programme’s appeal is an asset, but reports from multiple data sets offering conflicting views of success or failure –  something that websites have had to contend with since the dawn of the internet – well that’s actively dangerous.

Meanwhile, what are the relative values of a viewer, a streamer, a tweeter, a facebook friend or a GetGlue sticker-collector? Data that cannot be joined together to show the whole picture can be worse than flying blind on good old intuition and common sense.

What we do know is that – as a result of TV’s digital liberation from linear broadcasting and the TV screen –  many telescopes are now trained on the TV sky at night. Broadcasters and platforms are cultivating their own data streams and direct relationships with viewers. Will data become a jealously guarded weapon to provide competitive advantage, or will the long established ‘shared currency’ system still prevail?

Google’s latest announced intent to build a UK three screen panel, adds to the need for the upcoming debate at the RTS Cambridge Convention about the role of data in the TV business going forward.

Clearly the existing currency has a key role to play in all of this. BARB alone can show us that big picture, the shape of the universe through which our TV content and advertising voyages. BARB has the potential to give the context for better understanding these newer data sets, sources that can give us the additional granularity of measurement of specific parts of the TV universe – like the Sky or Virgin platforms, broadcaster catch up services, mobile and social media.

Just in the last couple of months I have become more and more convinced that social media data linked to TV viewing could be huge, particularly if the ipad replaces the TV remote control as a complement to the ‘big screen’ to filter content and allow shared virtual viewing experiences…. and yet more data!

Realistically we don’t need to roll these data sets together into a huge ball of confusion but rather we need to ensure that we have the context, the big picture within which we can  understand them and take informed decisions. It’s not about surrendering competitive advantage but ensuring compatibility, providing that links and common definitions can be agreed

TV as an industry has a unique advantage in the transparency of its measurement. That has always been its strength compared to, say, internet data.  Building a digital relationship with viewers rather than just counting them is a part of the future, for sure. And yes, data is “the new oil”, “the new black”, call it what you will, but data in isolation,  trying to use datasets without an understanding of how they slot into the universe as a whole, could suck us into a research black hole – masters of the minutiae of our own domains but blind to the outside world.

Starting at the RTS Convention, let’s take a step back, start an open debate and ensure that we can avoid death by data and harness the power of digital insight to ensure it can drive the UK television industry not overwhelm it.


Richard Marks is Chief Executive of Kantar Media Audiences. Kantar provide audience measurement services in sixty countries worldwide including the new UK BARB TV panel established in 2010, and the TV currencies in China, Russia and Spain. Richard will be introducing a debate at the RTS Cambridge Convention 14-16 September on the future role of data in the UK television industry.

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