MAD Perspectives Blog

Data Lessons Learned From Sports Broadcasting

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I attended the Sports Video Group Summit with a client this week. SVG as indicated by its name, focuses on the business and technology of creating and distributing sports content. Everyone is a sports fan at some level. That doesn't mean you participate in fantasy leagues or count down the moment until the next SportsCenter broadcast, but it does mean you might have kids participating in soccer, swimming, gymnastics or even fencing and archery. 

Sports is all about the statistics. Sure, you thought it was about athleticism. But think about it - avid sports fans can reel off volumes of statistics in the form of batting averages, rushing yards, split times, win/loss records, etc. Those stats are data. Sports is flooded with data and those fans who participate in fantasy leagues, live for the data. However, what about those fans who just want to enjoy a game on TV? Do they love the stats? Do they love seeing their screen covered with mounds of data?

This was part of the conversation at this week's SVG Summit. As live sports producers consider the technology available to them (e.g., 4K cameras that allow them to show you the sweat on the lineman's brow) graphics is a big part of how  sports broadcasting has evolved. Graphics highlight boundaries, player movements, optimal trajectories, and they are the tool to portray data (aka statistics) on air.

It's no wonder that large screen TVs are popular, you need a large screen just to incorporate all that data! The question is - does all that data enhance the fan experience? Is the data complementary or intrusive? Producers have to make decisions about how the event is portrayed. Directors make decisions about camera angles. Producers own the look, feel and context. Yep, context.

Sports broadcasting is storytelling in a, usually, fast paced environment.  Decisions are made about how to add data that provides context to a given moment. This is contextual data. In the retail space this is data about where you might be as a consumer about to make a purchase. In sports productions, this is data that illuminates the viewers understanding of what just happened (or is about to happen) on the field of play. 

The challenge is to avoid crossing the line where the data becomes intrusive and no longer enhances the experience. This is a lesson we can all learn from, data is fantastic when we have a well-defined reason for collecting and analyzing it. Data for the sake of data is overwhelming, and perhaps a bit boring. When there is intention and context, data becomes insightful, helpful and hopefully - actionable.

What's your perspective?

A Data Driven Christmas?

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

As we enjoy the holiday season and prepare to enjoy time with friends and family, we also struggle to find the perfect gift. We seek suggestions, rack our brains from creative ideas, and sometimes default to the ubiquitous gift card. What we are seeking is the data to support our decisions.

Whether we are shopping in-store or online, we want validation that we are selecting a gift that will please the recipient. Our intent is to create joy. However, sometimes we mis-fire and our seemingly perfect gift falls flat. Could a data driven gift selection process improve our "win ratio"?

E-commerce sites are investing in big data to improve the consumer experience, to expedite your purchase decision by providing recommendations, and to drive revenue. In-store promotion seek to attract buyers with heavy discounts, but recommendations are absent, unless shopping with a friend. Many of us seek to avoid the physical shopping experience due to lack of time or distaste for crowds. More of us are shopping online as noted by the lackluster Black Friday figures. Yet overall spending both online and in-store declined by 32% from 2013, per the National Retail Federation. There are a variety of reasons for the decline, but perhaps better marketing driven by an understanding of customer need would result in a smaller decline.

Amazon has long been noted for its recommendation engine. Not that it's perfect, but it does gather a lot of information about consumers and it has the ability to recommend products that are similar to those we have viewed, purchased or queried. But, what if we are seeking something completely different than any prior purchase? Amazon, or any other e-commerce site, would struggle to recommend an interesting item. Without incorporating data that reveals our goal, recommendations fall flat.

Big data is the combination of internal data, such as Amazon has collected in it internal databases, plus the combination of external data collected from the internet. It includes data from online searches, social networks and other publicly available sites. It is this unstructured data that does not reside in an existing database that begins to reveal the intent or motivation of the buyer. With an understanding of intent, recommendations can become more relevant and actually influence consumers to take the desired action of buying a gift.

Businesses, B2C or B2B, must define their own intention for using big data. Then, they can create the strategy to collect and analyze the right data to help them achieve their goals. Then, they can provide the context that will motive at customer to take the desired action.

Each industry's buyers and sellers have unique influences driving their behavior. Acknowledging and identifying these drives, helps big data become more relevant and allows big data to lead to measurable actions. Perhaps next year will be a data driven holiday season. For this year, the data is informative but not inspiring or influential.

Will you have a data driven Christmas ( or Hanukkah or Kwanza)? Has data streamlined your gift buying and giving?

What's your perspective?

Are We Too Dependent On Data?

Peggy Dau - Monday, December 01, 2014

I'm a fan of the rise of data analytics and am enthusiastic about it's potential to deliver greater insight that subsequently allows individuals and companies to better serve others. However, I wonder if we are becoming too dependent on that data, or perhaps on the promise of the data.

Regardless of industry, every business thrives on data - whether it is in the form of sales revenue, expenses, headcount, volume of customer service calls, mean time between equipment failures, number of Twitter followers, crop yields, or trading volumes. Publicly traded companies provide Wall Street analysts with lots of data every quarter. Said analysts then pontificate on the virtues or shortcomings resulting from the announcement.

Companies talk about making data driven decisions. Netflix has been the poster-child for this way of thinking, in the media space, as exemplified by their investment in original content creation and choices in what content is promoted subscribers. Fortune 1000 companies make decisions about new products, pricing, go-to-market strategies, customer service, supply chain, hiring, firing, and just about every element of their business, based on data. In many cases, managers and individual contributors are penalized if they do not have the right data at their fingertips.

The challenge is, that some decisions have to be made in the absence of data. The ability to make those decisions is typically born from past experience. But, what happens if a generation of workers has been wholly subjected to data-driven decision making? What if they have not been allowed the autonomy to pursue a strategy that makes practical sense, but is not 100% supported by the data? And, what if that same strategy has minimal cost impact on the organization, but could provide a significant return? Many would say, yes, pursue the strategy for a period of time but measure the results carefully. Yes, that means find the data to support the activity. Others would say, no, there is not enough data to support the limited investment. There are better ways to spend the money.

The billions of dollars being spent on big data are pointless if the data cannot be analyzed and used to support innovation. The challenge remains, how to use the data to drive some type of action. The data is useless without understanding the impetus for acquiring the data. The desire for data should acknowledge that hard earned experience, market awareness and gut instinct are part of discovering the right data and the subsequent analysis of the data. Data taken out of context can lead to misunderstanding and potentially unintentional actions.

Let's be aware of the data, but add in a healthy dose of common sense and human assessment of the data. Let's use data to test our instincts, not replace them.

What's your perspective?

A Season To Be Thankful

Peggy Dau - Monday, November 24, 2014

Inspired by this week's upcoming Thanksgiving celebration and Jimmy Fallon's thank you notes (but without his innate humor), I am grateful for:

     - Amazing colleagues who never cease to feed my desire for knowledge. I've known some of you for years and others only a short time, but every conversation reinforces my love of technology and how it persistently changes the way we live our lives.

     - HP remembering what innovation is! Having spent a significant portion of my adult life as an HP employee, i will always be interested in what this company does.  This year, they made three announcements which proved that they've still got what it takes to compete.  In case you missed them, those announcements were The Machine, Sprout by HP, and 3D Printing.  Good luck HP in bringing all three solutions to market - each of them will shift existing paradigms.

     - Seeing that the media & entertainment sector is finally adopting all the technologies that my old team at HP believed in. We were ahead of the curve, didn't earn or have the confidence of the industry, but we were passionate about how IT-based solutions were going to shift the business of media. That transition is still underway, but it's nice to know we weren't completely wrong!

     - For clients who create cool technology and allow me to help them tell their stories.

     -  The power of networking. As an independent consultant, networking is how business happens. Anyone who follows my blog posts, knows that I'm a big believer in the benefit of social networks - particularly LInkedIn. However, face to face meetings will always win out. They allow for a human experience, a gut instinct, an offhand comment that uncovers a bigger idea - or just a friendly, wow it's great to see you, hug.  Social networks extend and reinforce those human relationships, but hopefully will never completely replace them.

What are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!


OTT is Not THE Panacea

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

We're all excited that HBO's direct-to-consumer streaming service will be available in 2015. We don't even know what it's going to cost. But we do know that it's market shifting. These thoughts were on everyone's mind at the Video Industry Forum, hosted by Ooyala and Vindicia, discussion regarding video monetization. While the very informed panelists, including Jim O'Neill, believe in the opportunity enabled by OTT service providers, none of the panelists could provide explicit insight into the best way to monetize video.  And, that's OK.

Like everything internet oriented, the key is to keep an open mind and understand that multiple iterations of business models must be tried, tested and tweaked.  Sure, HBO is going to benefit from streaming content directly to their consumers. As mentioned my previous blog, they will benefit from the volumes of data and gain further insight into the behavior and opinions of their audience. HBO also benefits from already having a rich content library. They've put the time and money into developing and producing compelling drama, comedy and sports productions.

They will drive incremental revenue through their streaming service. But their inability to define the monetization model is not unusual. Theirs will likely be a subscription model and the open question is the cost of that subscription. In the OTT arena the options are 1) subscription, 2) advertising, 3) Pay-per-view, 4) Subscription VOD (SVOD), and 5) electronic sell through (EST). The primary challenge is in how to attract and retain the ever so elusive millennials. 

Millennials are the demographic consuming content on laptops, tablets and smartphones. They are the target for multiple advertisers. Yet, they don't all have sufficient income to commit to a subscription model and t is unclear if they are attracted to ad-supported models. In fact, they are the generation with an expectation of free music (hello Spotify) and that expectation may extend to video content.

The OTT business model is the challenge. Verizon is investigating options. Jim O'Neill highlighted the challenge of "lassoing" millennials at Ooyala's Video Industry Forum last week, in New York. In fact the panelists at the forum all agreed that:

     - monetization is hard and it's a moving target
  •      - OTT is still the wild west and no one is sure what the end goal is
  •      - OTT is long over due as there are audiences everywhere
  •      - Despite the abundance of data, few are using that data to target ads, despite this being a      prominent discussion for years.

The second challenge, which could completely obliterate the first, is that of authentication. Right now all network designed tablet apps require a cumbersome authentication process binding OTT access to an existing cable subscription. If the content is compelling enough, the process is manageable, however it is not intuitive or easy. Nor do the apps retain your authentication details for more than two weeks.

The bottom line is that OTT must drive a revenue stream. The challenge is that no one model is THE solution.  Like the adoption of social media, it's an iterative process to determine the right mix. The right business model could depend on the content, or the target audience, or the consumption device, or the content format. Despite this challenge, OTT is here to stay. Sure, we will still consume content  on our HD and UHD TVs, but we will increasingly turn to the smaller screen.

What's your perspective?

Who Wins in the Streaming Game?

Peggy Dau - Thursday, November 06, 2014

With all the discussion and analysis of HBO's streaming announcement, it could be construed that HBO and the consumer are the big winners. But what about the technologies that enable the streaming service? Yes, these technologies are often taken for granted, until there is a mishap. It could be re-buffering of content, or the inability to recognize a user ID, or in-accessibility of content on certain platforms. Behind the scenes there is an army of technology providers addressing concerns for content delivery, content discovery, digital rights, transcoding, subscriber management, billing, ad insertion, graphical user interface and more.

Perhaps the most important component enabling consumer enjoyment of streaming content is the content delivery network. Many consumers assume that their local broadband/internet provider is responsible for enabling the delivery of Netflix type content. This is partly true. Yes, Verizon, Comcast, Charter and others are responsible for the last mile deliver of content into your home. But, that content has traveled many miles from its original source. Content Delivery Networks use a distributed network of servers and software to analyze web traffic and optimize delivery of content across the internet while protecting the content from malicious attacksIt is thanks to technologies from companies like Akamai, Level 3, or Edgecast,  that we are able to enjoy major league baseball games, the Olympics, Netflix or any broadcast or cable network content on our laptops, tablets or mobile devices.

A colleague recently mentioned that Akamai must be printing money with the rise in streaming content. They, and their competitors, are certainly appreciating the rise of OTT services delivering sports, news and entertainment content into consumer homes. Akamai's recent Q3 financial results certainly confirm the demand for their services, with revenue up 26% year over year and overall exceptional financial performance.  In fact, media delivery solutions, were specifically called out in Akamai's Q3 earnings call.

Content Delivery Networks are one of the original cloud solutions as they've been positioning hardware and software assets in remote locations to enable user access to content via the internet. They've been a part of our internet experience since the late 1990's. Long before the term "cloud" entered our every day technology vernacular, CDNs were leasing space in Internet Data Centers to house farms of servers, persistently tweaking algorithms and enhancing content protection solutions. 

While other technologies may not be exceeding market expectations at the same level as Akamai, announcements like HBO's, certainly excite the technology ecosystem enabling streaming content. It also puts incremental pressure on solution providers to simplify content discovery (regardless of platform or distribution channel), enhance digital rights management and streamline user authentication. It's safe to say that winners abound in the ongoing push to stream entertainment, sports and news programs. Just don't assume its only the content owners or consumers!

What's your perspective?

HBO Playing Catch UP

Peggy Dau - Monday, October 27, 2014

October is being hailed as a milestone month for TV due to the announcements from HBO and CBS regarding their direct-to-consume streaming services. It is generally agreed that the motivation was money (isn't' it always?) and a desire to align with the needs of their respective audiences. However, not much has been written about the need to stay relevant; or, the benefit of actually having a direct connection with their audience.

The evolution of televised content is storied. In fact, it's time for someone to tell the story of Cable and Pay TV (a la Ted Turner and John Malone), in the style of Mad Men regaling the exploits of ad men during advertising's golden age or AMC's lesser known, but equally compelling series, Halt & Catch Fire which dramatizes the birth of the personal computer revolution. The use of satellites to deliver content to cable head-ends forever changed our TV viewing experience. Thanks to HBO and Ted Turner, we were able to access premium movie content and 24 hour news in our homes. 

Even with HBO's creation of original content in its early days, it was primarily known for delivering marquee sports events (e.g., 1975's "Thrilla in Manila between Muhammad Ali" and Joe Frazier) and Hollywood movies. It's notable original content emerged during the 1990s with The Larry Sanders Show, then followed by Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex and the City and so on to today's Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones. Broadcast networks were forced to take note when HBO garnered award nominations and ultimately began winning the lion's share of the annual awards for quality content.

HBO set the stage for quality drama and comedic series. They established a high standard for cable networks, many of which simply syndicated broadcast television content. Struggling USA Networks succeeded in a turnaround resulting from producing character-centric original programming such as Monk, Burn Notice and White collar. Other networks have subsequently followed suit, syndicating content for daytime hours while offering original programming during primetime.

However, it was Netflix who set the stage for the current upheaval. HBO will always be known for a Pay-TV business model enhanced by producing original content to attract subscribers. But, Netflix initiated the use of subscriber data to capitalize upon audience search and consumption patterns to produce content to fulfill their desires. This is the benefit of a streaming service. The direct connection to consumers that Netflix and Amazon has not only allowed fans to consumer content based on their schedule, they have also enabled the concept of binge viewing. No longer must an audience wait for the weekly broadcast of Homeland or The Good Wife. They can enjoy an entire season over a weekend, if they choose.

HBO and CBS will certainly appreciate bumps in their revenue streams, but they will also gain much greater insight into audience behavior. Their ability to capture and analyze fan reaction and resulting behavior will enhance their ability create content that viewers want to watch. Certainly, they have already been monitoring social networks to gain insight into the real-time emotions of their audience. Of course they seek superior original content that aligns with market trends for all things fantasy, sci-fi or vampire oriented (although don't we have enough blood suckers on-air already?). But, that is not enough.

Much of Netflix's success comes from their well-documented obsession with data. This is where HBO must play catch up, solely because they have been missing one important dimension of data - the insight that comes from having a direct streaming relationship with subscribers. Understanding how subscribers discover the content they wish to view and correlating that data based on previous content consumed, genre, actors, time of day, month or other demographics, deliver incremental value to content producers. Content strategies, scheduling, pricing, talent - they may all be impacted by the data collected. And, in return they may instigate further data. HBO is certainly not suffering from a lack of quality programming. To maintain relevance in a world where consumption patterns are changing dramatically, HBO must play catch up in offering a streaming option, if only to capture the relevant data.

What's your perspective?


Snip Snip - Hooray!?

Peggy Dau - Monday, October 20, 2014

At last. Premium content without having to have a cable or Pay TV subscription. Bowing to consumer demand, HBO and Showtime will offer access to their programming which includes the wildly popular, Game of Thrones, and critically acclaimed, Homeland. For those who have never subscribed to premium cable channels, this an opportunity to play catch up. But, more importantly this is the seismic shift that has been forecast since the rise of OTT services (streaming content over your broadband connection).

The benefit to HBO and Showtime is access to incremental revenue. Millions of households don't subscribe to their services which are priced as a premium over and above the selected Pay TV subscription bundle. There have been options for individuals to access this content via tablet based-apps, HBOGo and Showtime Anytime, using household or family member passwords. And, others have waited for series to be available on OTT services such as Netflix. Studies have shown the popularity of the content whether accessed on a tablet/laptop or using internet connected devices like XBox. We can expect an avalanche of other streaming offers to come from the rest of the cable channels. The difference now, is that fans don't have to wait top play seasonal catchup, nor do they need to "borrow" passwords. They can subscribe directly to HBO or Showtime, without an intermediary.

The announcement is timely given the recent reports from ComScore and Ooyala reinforcing where and how we consume content. The all important millennials (ages 18-34) consume ⅓ of their original series content on digital platforms. Why? Flexibility of place and time. The millennials are also much less likely to subscribe to cable or other pay TV services. An argument could be made that millennials don't have the income levels (particularly at the lower end of the age range) to support pay TV subscriptions. And, that others ARE subscribing and that they represent the majority. So why are millennials the driving force behind new business models? They represent the future and the habits they have and are forming today will stay with them. Like the publishing and music industries, the television industry is in the midst of a dramatic shift.

The shift is not due to a lack of interest in televised content. It's about the audience taking control of the schedule, and as a result the business model for accessing desired content. Approximately 40% of US households already have a paid digital video subscription via a service such as Netflix or Amazon. The success of these services has been debated even as subscriptions have risen thanks to the availability of original content or not grown as quickly as anticipated in new markets. Whichever side of the debate you may sit on, the adoption of streamed content is here to stay. Subscription plans and budgets will determine the uptake rate. 

Consumers are hopeful for options that allow them to maintain or reduce their existing TV-related costs, while gaining access to previously unavailable programs. As mentioned in my recent blog, Alternatives to Content Socialism subscribers have grown tired of cable bundles that include channels with content of little or no interest. The home audience isn't ready to give up its cable subscription. It simply wants options and flexibility. Even with broadcast TV viewership declining, the core U.S. networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX, deliver must-see TV in the form of sports. These networks already provide live streaming alternatives, but it's the big screen experience that continues to bring fans together at the appointed game time.

No pricing for the streaming services has been shared, yet, by HBO or CBS/Showtime. When it is revealed, it will become clear as to how well these content creators understand their audience. There is a tipping point when it comes to pricing. They've shown they understand the shift in how consumers want to enjoy content. Do they also understand the value placed on that content in terms of monthly subscription pricing? Only time will tell and what seems like cause for celebration, may result in dissatisfaction.

What's your perspective?

Sports Leading Innovation

Peggy Dau - Monday, October 13, 2014

it's no surprise that sporting events drive technology innovation - or is it? If you were to ask a friend about the technology of sports, they might shrug or look at you with a quizzical expression. However, given a few more minutes to think about it, they might actually come forth with a few ideas. In fact, sports has driven development and mainstreaming of a lot of broadcast technology that we now take for granted. As an example, look at how the way watch and enjoy sports has benefited from the innovations noted in this 2011 article from Business Insider.

The sports industry is all about creating a compelling fan experience. Sure, teams seek out amazing talent, build attractive stadiums and play to win. But it is the fans that pay to attend games, that pay to watch events on TV, that buy merchandise, that share their passion on social networks, that buy the devices that enable them to access information about their team - anytime, anywhere. As FIFA prepared for this year's world cup they understood that global football fans would be accessing match statistics and video from a myriad of devices. As a result, they invested in delivering multimedia services to their licensed broadcasters serving local fans.

These services focused on enabling online and second screen experiences. FIFA partners with Netco do develop an app that could be white-labeled by broadcasters. The app, used by 40 broadcasters, resulted in 28 million downloads. One billion users visited FIFA's Global Stadium - the social online media hub. It was only on digital platforms that fans could view matches from EVERY angle. On the social network front, the World Coup attracted 451M Facebook users and 16M Twitter followers.

The technology demands of the first global sporting event capturing and producing content in 4K required a host of broadcast technology from vendors including Sony, EVS, Deltatre, Netco, Elemental, Eutelsat, Globosat, Aspera, Akamai and Microsoft Azure. The mix of traditional broadcast vendors and vendors enabling online streaming and second screen experiences is a sign of the future. EVS, long known for its sports broadcasting technology, has proven its ability foresee audience demand through development of C-Cast to enable second screen publishing (used at the World Cup 2014) and its recently released FanCast, designed to enhance the in-stadium experience (and sure to be used at the next Olympics).

The IBC2014 Judges Award for broadcast innovation was awarded to the FIFA World Cup 2014 - a confirmation of sporting events driving the future of broadcast technology and ultimately, the fan experience. Sports fans are passionate. Sports fans will invest in the tools to feed their passion. Teams, leagues and non-sports oriented event organizers (e.g., entertainment, political) must take note and adopt the tools that makes sense for their budgets to optimize broadcast and second screen experiences. 

What's your perspective?

The Third Dimension - Context

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The entertainment experience has been under invasion by social media and second screens for several years. Initially they were viewed with skepticism, then intrigue and ultimately accepted as the overall industry determined that they were more than a flash in the pan. They are more than a distraction and they are more than an incremental stream of revenue. They bring something extremely valuable to the audience experience. It is so valuable, in fact, that a lot of energy is being expended to ensure that they become even more tightly entwined with entertainment experiences, at home, or in stadium.

Yes, that's right at home or in stadium. Our entertainment experiences span many destinations. Not all of them are the optimal destination for accessing content via a second screen, so we'll focus on those locations that invite use of a screen to add context to the experience. Yes, context. This is the third dimension beyond time and content. Other than for live events, time has become a flexible concept (although, I suppose for physicists it has always been fluid). We access content as we like, wherever we are. In fact, we are willing to pay for that flexibility. However, the dimension that has been elusive has been context.

The rise of the second screen was initially touted as a distraction. It pulled the audience away from the action in front of them. However, comments on social media provided insight valuable to brands and advertisers. And, for sports fans, the second screen provided stats, comparisons and…yes, context. Context is defined as "the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood".  Whether we are enjoying scripted entertainment, reality programs, music or sports, thoughts are provoked which results in our accessing another screen to tap into the volumes of information available on the internet. We seek to validate or debate the moment which provoked the action.

Behind the scenes this craving for context is driving technology innovation. Whether it is platforms bringing together fans of the new season of "Scandal" or the legions of Champions League football fans. Whether we are in our homes or enjoying a match at the stadium, technology solutions are available, allowing us to access supplemental content which will provide context. Increasingly, technology vendors are investing in enhancing the stadium experience. It is no longer just about sitting in your seat. There are screens everywhere - from the very large to the very small. There is content provided by the sports club itself - some designed specifically for the big screen and other to provide context to the events on the field. 

The data - oh yes, there is a LOT of data, is aggregated, sliced and diced, to provide insight. It brings fans together as they compare performances. While the primary focus for augmenting the audience experience has been the use of second screens at home. The rise of second screen apps/platforms for use in stadiums is on the rise. It is more than ordering food to be delivered to your seat. They are apps developed by the stadium developers or sports club or league, designed to enhance the fan experience. The goal is to provide a more immersive experience - and it's all due to adding context.

We wrote about the rise of context earlier this year. It's about more than collecting the data, it's about using the data of add value. How often do you turn to your second screen for information to enhance an experience? Did you gain perspective about the event that prompted you to take that action? Did you add context to the situation? I bet you did.

What's your perspective?


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