Data Deluge

It seems each passing day provides further examples of how the process of understanding media audiences requires navigating an ever-increasing flow of audience data from a variety of sources

This story describing the various ways in which Showtime has sought to understand the viewers of its original program, Nurse Jackie, is particularly interesting.  Of particular importance, I think, is the way the story illustrates how it vital it is today for content providers to not only understand why audiences watch a particular program, but also why they choose the particular platform they do to watch it. 

Also important, I think, is how this story illustrates that both quantitative and qualitative data are necessary to obtain a sufficeintly well-rounded understanding of how and why audiences engage with a particular content option and why they employ particular platforms to do so.  Despite the growing array of quantative data sources that are emerging to facilitate the understanding of media audiences, qualitative approaches provides insights that can’t be obtained via quantitative methods.

And, despite the explosion of data, the opinion in some quarters is that it still isn’t enough.  According to this story, which reports on this week’s Digital Hollywood conference, one set of panel participants concluded that “The television business needs more data on viewership.”  In particular, set-top boxes and the provision of addressable advertising were antcipated to fuel the supply and demand, respectively, for an increase in television audience data.

The end result is an industry that is being data-driven to an unprecedented extent.  As one industry executive interviewed for the story contends, this transition represents “a sea change, … because ‘media companies aren’t data-oriented businesses. Traditionally they transact on very little data, because there wasn’t a need for data and segmentation of audiences.” 

This last statement strikes me as a bit of an exaggeration.  While certainly data-driven decision-making in the media sector — whether it be in terms of guiding programming or media buying decisions — has achieved an unprecedented level of of prominence, these latest developments represent the next evolutionary stage in what has been a steady, inexorable process toward an increased rationalization of audience understanding.

Questions about whether this process is ultimately a good thing persist, as this recent Advertising Age column on “The Dangers of Online Advertising’s ‘Math State'” illustrates.  It seems even some of those within the business of buying audiences are wondering whether their increased reliance on data analytics is helping or hurting their performance.

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