With all the buzz about big data, the primary assumption is that it will help companies better understand their customers. This is not wrong, but is is just one aspect of what big data can do. In his recent conversation at HP Discover, Brian Kraznich CEO of Intel, spoke about how big data can help us uncover "known unknowns and the unknown unknowns". For example, we know we can uncover data that will help us understand consumer preferences. It's just a matter of aggregating and analyzing the data from multiple sources. But, what about making the connection between various data points that reveals something we never imagined?
Industries from financial services to oil & gas to telecommunications & media are all using big data to improve their businesses. How big is Big Data? It's big enough that there is now a data visualization award at this week's Cannes Lions event - the "Oscars" of the advertising industry. It's important enough that data scientists are paid more than business analysts at financial services firms.
We've all read about Netflix's use of its subscriber data to influence its production of the hit series "House of Cards". However, Netflix is also using data to identify the impact of Quality of Experience (QoE) on the subscriber behavior. For example, what is the rebuffer rate? What is the bitrate? What is the network capacity? One benefit in correlating this data is that it allows Netflix to make smarter decisions about where and when to cache content, usually near the "edge" of the network, to better server their customers.
Netflix is not alone in its focus on the network. Cable operators and telecommunications providers have long been monitoring and measuring network performance. They capture data from across their networks in order to provide a better a subscriber experience, but also to reduce their operational costs. They have adopted big data analytics solutions to address concerns such as extracting data from call data records and comparing it to network alerts with the goal of improving customer service. The analysis may reveal that a small number of network nodes are responsible for the majority of customer issues. The service provider can then pursue options such as providing online self-service tips, performing proactive network maintenance or performing network equipment upgrades. The results include reductions in the volume of calls to the call center as well as reduced on-site visits, improved customer service margins and happier customers.
A benefit for all service providers is the ability of big data analytics to unify systems for network monitoring, management and troubleshooting. With a variety of hardware and software in the network and at the subscriber premises, aggregating disparate data is a challenge. Big data solutions enable capture, aggregation and analysis to:
- measure network usage
- reduce network equipment costs
- perform fraud analysis
- uncover bandwidth issues
Getting ahead of the curve on these issues will allow cable operators, telecommunications providers, wireless carriers and OTT Players to manage their networks more efficiently, which ultimately allows them to serve their subscribers more effectively. Big data provides the insight to prepare them for the increasing demands on the network to provide connectivity, deliver high bandwidth video and enable interactivity.
What's your perspective?
Batting averages. Market share. Global warming. Presidential front-runner. What do all of these statements have in common? They are statements based on data. They are the beginning of a story. Whether it is a journalist reporting or an analyst writing or a brand positioning, the basis of the story is in the data. It's little wonder that big data analytics has become the catchphrase for every marketer (myself included!).
We've always been data driven. The only difference now, is that we have MORE data. It has always been able to find the data to support any type of debate. However, now individuals are voluntarily sharing their thoughts and opinions on the internet and social networks. It is the power of this unstructured data, especially when combined with existing structured data from existing systems, that is attractive to brands. They have the opportunity to tailor a story to meet specific, self-defined customer needs. But the challenge lies in how to sift through all that data.
Enter - big data analytics. Analytics is now big business. Every IT company has jumped on the bandwagon. IBM and its Watson supercomputer are positioned to provide personalized advice to doctors, financial analysts or online shippers. While HP Vertica is sifting subscriber data at telecommunications companies around the globe and analyzing social data feeds for NASCAR. Not to be outdone, Teradata is providing greater customer insight to the hospitality industry and food suppliers. Each of these vendors is providing the 'secret sauce' to help their customers connect with their customers by telling the most relevant story. And, it all comes from the data.
A report from Columbia's TOW Center for Digital Journalism, speaks to data-driven journalism. But, hasn't journalism always been data driven? Yes, but instead of having staff researchers manually scour files and reports, or spend hours online searching for the right data, there are an increasing number of tools to help them uncover the data to create or support the story. They are not alone. The term data scientist has gained great cache in the past few years. Whether it is for advertising firms or for financial services, the value of data has never been higher.
One only needs to look at the history of US presidential elections. Remember the predictions Dewey defeating Truman in the 1948 US Presidential election? Newspapers had determined that they had their story and went to print with "Dewey Defeats Truman" on the front page. Perhaps access to more data would have prevented that now famous error. Today's pollsters have many more tools available to them today as proven by Nate Silver's eerily accurate predictions in the 2012 US Presidential race.
Brands are learning how to tell their stories with a deeper understanding of their customer base. Dove has hit home runs with their ads reflecting real women rather than models. Telecommunications vendors are modifying their marketing outreach to reflect the knowledge they have about subscriber consumption. Advertising conglomerates, perhaps the kings of storytelling, have invested in analytics to improve ROI for their clients. Big Data Analytics is not a passing fad, it is a logical step on the journey for meaningful, measurable communication between individuals and businesses. Have you found your story in the data?
What's your perspective?
Twitter. Everyone knows what it is. Everyone has an opinion as their future viability. The company went public with much fanfare. The stock opened at $26, climbed to the $70 range and sunk back to $30. It's now stabilizing, but the question remains - can Twitter hang in there for the long haul? I'm not a power user of Twitter, nor do I have any financial stake in Twitter. Yet, I find Twitter to be more and more compelling.
Here's what i like about Twitter. It has taught all of us how to communicate concisely. It's that simple. We've all had to learn how to communicate in 140 characters or less. And that includes any url links or hashtags! I just listened to a report on how to make sure your email is read. In short (pun intended), be direct, be clear, be succinct. It sounds liked Twitter is influencing email.
Twitter is enabling and influencing more than individuals. It provides personal context to the topics of our day. Twitter has changed the shape of news, politics, sports, TV viewing and business communication.
News: Twitter has become the source for breaking news. It is so much an accepted force that broadcasters and journalists not only own their own twitter accounts. Twitter is not only incorporated into their reporting, it is now used to get the news out and track audience opinion and interest. It is used to determine the level of reporting associated with breaking or ongoing news topics.
Politics: Then candidate Barack Obama may arguably have been the first politician to capitalize on the power of social media, but the role of Twitter in politics is now, not only acknowledged, it is embraced - until it becomes embarrassing (remember Anthony Weiner?). Twitter helped power the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. It is such a recognized communication tool that some countries have banned Twitter. These countries include Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, China, and North Korea.
Sports: Most professional leagues/teams and college sports programs (e.g., MLB, NFL, NBA, ChampionsLeague, FIFAWorldCup, USOlympics, GoDiplomats, etc.) have active accounts, as do over half of professional athletes. However, the real power of Twitter for sports is in the hands of the fans. The largest spikes in Twitter use surround big sporting events like the SuperBowl, Olympics and the upcoming FIFA World Cup.
TV: This may be where Twitter's influence leading to revenue generation. As Twitter prepared for its IPO, it announced deals with the NFL, Comcast and Nielsen. Twitter, through its acquisition of Amplify, can distribute videos. However, Twitter users can also click on the "See It" button for certain programs and obtain more information, or watch content on their device.
Business: Twitter has forever changed the nature of business communication. Is there a company, large or small, that does not have a Twitter account? It used to be that a website was the requirement for proving you had a business. Now, it's about both the website (many times as a repository for longer form content) and Twitter. Both B2C and B2B companies tweet to share information, invite engagement, encourage participation and measure customer experience.
Twitter has become the norm. It is as institutionalized as email when it comes to a form of communication. The difference is that the data in Twitter is extractable and has value. Thus Twitter's acquisitions of Blue Fin Labs and Gnip among many others. Twitter's revenue potential is dependent on monetizing data for advertising, for customer intelligence, for market trends, for consumer insight.
While Twitter subscriber growth is slowing and usage is down (likely due to user inability easily sift through the "noise" to find the "right" content), what other platform has insinuated its way into our daily lives in so many ways?
What's your perspective?
2013 was the beginning of a discussion regarding the use of technology by the Chief Marketing Officer. As marketing teams utilize social media, digital marketing, CRM and big data to create campaigns to engage customers, the CMO requires more technology than ever, blurring the lines between CTO and CMO. Whereas in the past, these leaders and their teams may have been able to ignore each other, that is no longer possible. Who owns the technology budget, IT or Marketing? The blurred lines extend beyond this discussion.
Consider the following points and think about who might own the budget, benefit from an investment in the technology and the impact of the technology on the organization.
- Social media monitoring platforms. They are the source of real-time data about your brand. This data can help tune existing marketing campaigns and provide the foundation for new real-time campaigns. in addition, they can provide the insight to guide effective online marketing investment.
- Content Management platforms. While Digital Marketing solutions are on the rise, there are still many Content Management, Digital Asset Management and Media Asset Management solutions that continue to expand their capabilities. These platforms have evolved to address social content, user generated content and audio/video assets. In addition, they must (and this is no longer an option) address multichannel distribution and consumption.
- Mobile content development. Mobile is increasingly the platform of choice for accessing information while also adding a layer of data relevant to where they are when they engage online or request content. the challenge is whether to create an app or to develop a mobile friendly web site, or both.
If the cable industry has its way, the internet will soon feel like my former local cable plan. I'll keep paying more without receiving any incremental value or having any say in the matter. The current debate over net neutrality boils down to concern by internet service providers (ISP) that services like Skype and Netflix consume large amounts of bandwidth, causing network congestion that can only be addressed by infrastructure investment by the ISP. The ISPs claim that the FCC Open Internet Order 2010 goes too far in its restrictions requiring ISP transparency in how they manage network congestion and prohibits ISPs from blocking traffic or creating "slow" lanes for any content.
This issue has worked its way through the courts and has escalated in terms of visibility thanks to the success of OTT services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video as well as voice/video-over-IP services such as Skype. Netflix's website indicates bandwidth requirements of 3 Mbps for standard definition content, 5 Mbps for high definition content and 25 Mbps for 4K content. It is obvious why ISPs are concerned. While 4K content is not yet widely available, nor have consumers invested heavily in 4K TVs, it is clear that 4K content is the future. As the volume of Netflix subscribers increases, so do the concerns of Comcast (easily the nation's largest cable operator and soon to be larger and more powerful with its acquisition of Time Warner Cable), Verizon and other providers of fiber optic based networks.
In my opinion, these ISPs are simply trying to figure out a way to underwrite their future network investments. They can pontificate about the FCC overreaching its authority or freedom of speech or regulatory ability, but the bottom line is always about money. Netflix has already started creating direct relationships with ISPs to guarantee that they will have the necessary last mile bandwidth to deliver content to their subscribers. And, what is the result? An increase in the monthly subscription cost for new subscribers (and without a doubt existing subscribers at some point in the future). Of course, the ISPs (cable or telco) already have tiered plans based on download speeds. Presumably pricing reflects current costs and will be adjusted as needed. This was certainly the practice of my former cable provider.
The new proposed ruling from the FCC introduces paid prioritization. This means that content owners can pay the ISP and incremental fee (which is what Netflix has negotiated with Comcast and others) to guarantee access to necessary bandwidth. So, the ISPs get paid, AGAIN, for use of their "pipes". Let's summarize what this means:the ISPs would generate income from consumer subscriptions AND from content providers. Consumers would pay subscriptions to the ISP and to OTT content providers (aka Netfllix). Who wins? The ISP. Will my service any better? Impossible to say.
This is a hot potato topic. There are strong opinions on all sides. I don't claim to be an expert. Check out the nytimes.com for a good summary of different perspectives. For me, this feels like the ISPs will be able to discriminate in favor of their own content. In the case of Comcast this is a very real concern given their ownership of NBCUniversal. For me, the open internet is a basic right, symbolic of the democracy that we live in.
What's your perspective?
When I arrived in Vegas two and half weeks ago, to attend NAB 2014, I anticipated a greater focus on cloud. I was not disappointed. The cloud was a dominant part of the conversation, with companies at all points along the media value chain providing cloud enabled solutions. Transcoding and storage have long been the poster children for cloud services. Why? Because, transcoding is an infrastructure heavy process, challenging ROI goals due to the high cost in building the required server farms and the inconsistent use of the servers.
As for storage, the cloud addresses a variety of concerns. The adoption of cloud storage, across all industries, was initially focused around disaster recovery. Companies opted for cost effective solutions to store and protect key assets. However, other valid uses quickly became apparent. Centralized access to media assets for either professional or consumer purposes addresses concerns for ease of access, effective collaboration and workflow efficiency. While concerns for content security have diminished, they have not complete disappeared.
The business drivers remain consistent: increased collaboration, quicker time to market, enabling new business models, cost flexibility and infrastructure scalability. At NAB, companies across the media industry announced and promoted their solutions in and for the cloud. From the Level 3 Communications bus, parked outside the South Hall, decorated in clouds, to the Avid Everywhere announcement. The cloud was front and center.
- Grass Valley introduced its cloud-based GV Stratus Playout solution, which positions playout cards at the edge of any network to provide fame accurate playback, displays still and animated logos and high quality pre-rendered graphics.
- Forbidden Technologies, a leader is cloud based workflow, announced its rebranding to better reflect is primary solution, Forscene, which is a cloud-based video post-production platform.
- RGB Networks presented its CloudXStream capabilities, a cloud enabled platform to manage ad insertion for multiscreen and nDVR solutions
- Vizrt now provides a cloud based media repository, on-demand media processing, management and storage services in the cloud leveraging their VIzOne Media Asset Management Services in combination with Aspera's FASP high speed transfer.
- Chyron's Axis World Graphics allow broadcasters to create graphics such as high resolution maps, 3D charts or financial quotes for broadcast, online and second screens (aka mobile) - all in the cloud.
- Imagine Communications (formerly Harris Broadcast) offers SelinioNext adaptive bit rate transcoding leveraging its IP based framework, MediaCentral, for migrating and optimizing media and playout functionality in virtualized cloud environments.
These are just a sampling of the announcements that exemplify the industry focus on cloud. All of this attention to cloud is good news for IT companies. The evolution of digital workflows and IP networks have set the stage for this transition. Companies like Microsoft and its Microsoft Azure Media Services partners with Forscene, Imagine Communicaitons, Wowza Media, Digital Rapids and NBC to enable live and on-demand cloud-based media workflows. IBM SoftLayer, a global cloud infrastructure, sits behind solutions from Vizrt and Imagine Communications. While Amazon Web Services is the enabler for Telestream, Harmonic, Wowza, Adobe Creative Cloud and others.
Sometimes a cloud day is good news. It looks like clouds are here to stay in the media industry.
What's your perspective?
Every industry is focused on data, yet the broadcast industry has perhaps been the most obvious in its use of data to drive audience. From Nielsen black boxes to the use of social media to capturing subscriber data from set-top boxes, content owners and distributors aggregate, analyze and assess data. Their goal is attracting an audience relevant to their advertisers as this is their source of revenue. The Guardian refers to this increasing focus on data as Moneyball TV. Examples ,regarding industry's love affair with data, are everywhere.
The sense of immediacy that occurs at live events is now pervasive online. We expect to find information immediately. We connect to our friends via social networks with an expectation of instant response. Brands and marketers have been focused on understanding the impact of real-time data for the past few years. The broadcast industry has also been ramping up its capabilities for real-time. Where once upon a time we could wait until the evening news to review the days events, that is now unacceptable. Social media has forever changed this paradigm. Now, broadcasters are incorporating real-time capabilities across their operations, in the form of breaking news news incorporating user-generated content, real-time voting, real-time audience engagement or real-time advertising.
There was significant focus on real-time at the NAB show last week in Las Vegas. The adoption of IT solutions such as Cloud and Big Data are in one part due to content producer and broadcaster need for real-time solutions. These solutions will help them become more efficient and advance their capabilities for audience engagement. How is real-time related to these big trends? Let's consider a few examples.
- Avid announced its Avid Everywhere. Recognizing the demand and need for geographically dispersed teams, while taking advantage of the best talent available, Avid Everywhere provides new ProTools capabilities in the cloud enable connectivity and collaboration with remote team members in REAL-TIME or offline.
- Never.no, a leader in Social TV technologies, showcased new products Story and Spots. While cloud-based Story was the "big story" with its ability to integrate real-time posts from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vine into live broadcasts (think chat shows or talent contests), I found Spot to be quite interesting. Social Spots provides the audience with the ability to submit its pictures to be inserted into a pre-defined advertising spot. What may have been a anonymous ad now becomes immediate and relatable due to the real-time insertion of real people.
- Decentrix, provider of Media Business Intelligence Solutions, introduced programmatic ad buying for broadcasters. Their solution not only collects static data from traditional sources, but aggregates and correlates data from real-time sources to define the true value of ad inventory.
- AMD's FirePro workstation graphics cards provide performance enabling creative talent to develop and edit 4K content without typical latency concerns. Their technological focus on speed and responsiveness enables the next generation of ultra-high speed visualization environments.
These solutions impact the technology and business of broadcast. They improve operational efficiency of workflows. They invite greater audience engagement through audience participation or enhanced content development. They allow broadcasters to identify opportunities to capitalize upon their own assets. Isn't this what any business desires?
The focus on real-time is the result of the world we now live in where immediate access to information is the norm. The adoption of smartphones and the availability of content via 4G LTE networks has influenced our psyche. As a result, our expectations in the workplace or at home are for solutions that support our need for instant gratification. As an industry whose fortunes are intricately dependent on its audience, the ability to provide real-time content, whatever form it takes (news, advertising, engagement, dialogue, etc.) will continue to influence the creation and advancement of enabling solutions. I expect the discussion around real-time to become as dominant as those around cloud and big data.
What's your perspective?
I'm en route to NAB 2014 in Las Vegas. Since I'm not a vendor I can enjoy a less frenetic NAB experience. For the uninitiated, The National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas is "Where Content Comes to Live" - to borrow their tag line. Anyone involved in the creation, management, monetization, distribution and consumption of professional content attends. It's a LOUD, BRIGHT industry event. It's also an opportunity to understand the nuts and bolts behind the content that we enjoy at the movies, on broadcast or cable TV, or on the Internet (e.g., Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and others).
While the broadcast industry still utilizes a lot of proprietary solutions to capture, produce and manage content, it is increasingly adopting IT solutions. As an IT gal, given my past history at Hewlett-Packard, I'm always interested in seeing how the big IT trends impact this industry. As I arrive in Las Vegas, I know there will be a lot of discussion about 4K or UltraHD content. This is an industry specific conversation that impacts the consumer marketplace in the shape of TVs, the telecom industry due to bandwidth required for distribution and the IT industry due to demands on server and storage products. But, 4K is hot topic unique to this industry.
What about Big Data? What about Cloud? What about Social Media? Yes, they all impact this industry and are increasingly shaping the future of this industry.