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Data Analytics on the Rise in Media Companies

Large and midsize media companies are embracing data analytics to improve internal operations and target their content. A new report explores this trend through case studies and survey data.

Some people may still assume that data analytics is mostly for financial firms and tech giants, but many industries are now using data to drive decisions. Today, media companies are embracing data analytics to improve internal operations and target their content.

The International News Media Association (INMA) recently released a new report exploring this growing trend. "Big Data for Media 2.0: Going Data-First" includes case studies, interviews, and the results of World Newsmedia Network's Big Data Media Survey, reflecting big data strategy according to 176 respondents in 46 countries on 5 continents. The report is free but only available to INMA members.

Growing Trend

Currently, big data initiatives are mostly found at large and midsize companies that produce print and/or digital media, and most are recent adopters. Of the 123 survey respondents identifying the launch dates of their big data initiatives, 28 percent began their big data project in 2013 or 2014; 19 percent have done so between 2015 and the present, and nearly a quarter (23 percent) plan to launch their initiative within two years. However, just over one quarter (26 percent) have no plans for using big data at all.

To support these new initiatives, data departments have grown by leaps and bounds at these companies. From 2014 to 2016, data personnel increased over 1000 percent across five major companies, as most went from having minimal or no professional data staff to teams of 20 to 50.

Primary Use: Audience Analytics

Media companies, whether they rely on subscribers or page views, can see real value from analyzing their customer data. Naturally, audience analytics was the most popular use of data in the survey population; a third (33 percent) of respondents who answered the question named it their top priority. Understanding an audience is critical to these content producers, and the amount and variety of customer data available to digital media companies make big data techniques necessary.

The report notes, "Audience analytics is an easy, entry-level tactic because it can be done almost entirely with technology."

Using big data to further target content or advertising to specific audience segments isn't as widespread among these companies as you might think, but it is a fast-growing practice. For example, the report notes that data-driven ad targeting was cited by only 11 percent of their respondents as the most important business or journalism initiative with big data.

Innovative Initiatives

The report also explores some profitable new uses of data that may not be immediately obvious.

For one example, The Weather Channel gathers an immense amount of data -- 20 TB -- every day as part of standard operations. As has been reported elsewhere, it has monetized this data in several ways, including selling advanced predictions to advertisers affected by weather patterns.

The Financial Times, meanwhile, is refining the advertising model on their site by using data to increase and measure engagement, rather than just counting clicks or page views.

Experiments Continue

Data-driven insights are changing the old ways of doing business at some media companies. Many companies interviewed for the report stressed that they need "an experimentation mentality."

The staff at the Financial Times said that constant small experiments to increase engagement have led to revenue growth, and The Washington Post has introduced proprietary tools that (among other things) make A/B testing easier.

With the spread of big data, media is facing the same challenge as many other industries: either innovate or lose ground to those that do.

About the Author

Lindsay Stares is a production editor at TDWI. You can contact her at lstares@tdwi.org.


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