CIO

A look inside the digital world of the media industry

How media companies are making the transition to digital

If there is one industry that knows what it means to be digitally disrupted, it's the media. With massive ongoing changes in the way people consume content – online, mobile and through social media channels – the media industry has had to quickly transition to digital, while also figure out new business models.

CIO Australia looks at several examples of media companies that are making this transition and the technologies that are driving their businesses forward.

Content recommendations and targeting

For any content driven website, analytics rule. The longer a reader stays on the website clicking through to other articles or content items, the better, along with a high frequency of returning to the website, and sharing its content with their social media networks.

Going beyond monitoring traditional aggregated data in Google Analytics, recommender systems have started to come onto the scene for editorial businesses, meaning it's not just applicable to e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay. Better targeted content and personalising user experience does not only mean more audience engagement, but also makes a more compelling proposition to advertisers, which are a major source of revenue for media companies.

Australia's Bauer Media, a magazine publisher with more than 60 websites, has a recommender system for creating more detailed viewer segments, to better predict which piece of content to serve to the viewer based on what he/she is likely to resonate with.

“We've got a project that we are working on right now to automatically tag all of our content so that we can get a better insight into what people are actually reading about. We have a lot of sites on different platforms, and they'll have stuff categorised as a celebrity news story, for example. That's really as much insight as we can get from that, so it's not really that useful to an advertiser," said Simon Rumble, head of data, analytics and CRM at Bauer Media Australia.

“If we are able to dig deeper into who those people are, which celebrity they are looking at and what kind of news story it actually is, we can start building up more detailed segments.”

Rumble is using natural language processing to pull out key terms in an article, and then look up the meaning of those terms in an external database. If a viewer is reading an article on actress Jennifer Lawrence, for example, the system would scan the article and pull out the key term 'Jennifer Lawrence'. It would then notice it's capitalised to identify it as a proper noun, and then look it up in an external database that states the term refers to a person, the fact that she is an American actress, and a list of the movies she has starred in.

This is not only used to recommend other articles tagged with the actress's name, but also build up a segment for people who have viewed more than three stories on Jennifer Lawrence in the last 30 days.

“That could be called the 'Jennifer Lawrence enthusiast' segment. So when the next Hunger Games movie [starring Lawrence] comes out, instead of just pitching to the distributor, 'Hey, we've got this segment of people who are interested in celebrity stuff', we've actually got a much more detailed set of segments that we can also throw at them," Rumble said.

“Having one giant category [celebrities] is limiting for us. So by being able to automatically tag our content, we can segment our audiences better but also get a better insight into what people are actually looking at.”

Detailed segments is also a focus for News Corp Australia, one of the largest media companies in the country. Chief technology officer, Alisa Bowen, who recently took over from former CIO Tom Quinn, said it's silly to serve up the exact same home page, site navigation and layout to every single one of News Corp's 4 million monthly viewers.

“We are determined to break out of this out-of-date view, so can we know how the site navigation should be structured or the content should be presented for all our users,” she said.

Bowen and her team have been pulling together data signals directly from viewers when they interact with the content, when they fill in their details for entering a competition, when registering with the websites, and when commenting on articles.

The team has also combined that with data from its partners through Quantium, which includes retailers and bankers, so they can tell not only what viewers are interested in reading about but also what they spend their money on.

“Mary Meeker [known as 'Queen of the Net'] has a wonderful expression, she says: 'An app should never ask a consumer what it ought to already know'. And that's our guiding philosophy when it comes to the work we are doing on personalisation and the application of big data insights for product experiences,” Bowen said.

News Corp Australia is also leveraging Unruly's ShareRank technology, which it acquired last year. The proprietary algorithm measures the emotional response of a viewer when watching a particular video, and predicts the likelihood of that video going viral as a result.

“It is a mobile advertising network for video ads that play in stream and are very specifically targeted for different segment types based on how likely that video is to engage certain emotions and responses from the audience,” Bowen explained.

The algorithm was fed 10 million streams of data, hundreds of millions of videos, along with people's emotional reaction to them online and how many times they've been shared on social media.

“They can provide guidance to video editors and producers around how to re-cut the clip to get the most emotional reaction,” Bowen said. "They can also provide information to marketers and advertisers about whom to target their clip to."

For example, the Queensland Government created an awareness campaign targeted at young male surfers on how to stay safe in the water. But when Unruly did its tests it identified that the strongest emotional reaction actually came from fathers with young men who are out surfing, rather than the intended demographic.

“So what Unruly advised the government to do with that campaign was to take a portion of their media spend and allocate it towards this additional target market with the expectation that they would be the ones who would virally share it, because they have the strongest emotional reaction,” Bowen said.

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Yahoo7 goes down virtual and wearables path
Yahoo7 is investigating how virtual reality (VR) could apply to its business and enhance the audience's experience when interacting with content.

“I think VR will change every aspect of the digital world and media will have a part to play in that,” said Paul Russell, director of technology at Yahoo7.

An example of how VR headsets could be used is for major events that Yahoo7 reports on at the scene. By having a 360 degree camera for the journalist to take footage of the surroundings, viewers at home can feel like they are also experiencing it at the scene when viewed in their VR headset.

Yahoo7 has also developed a wearable app for the Apple Watch, which came out last year, to allow sports fans get notified of the latest sport game results on their wrists. Users can view live scores and upcoming matches in AFL, tennis, cricket, A-League, and English Premier League.

"At the moment wearables are fairly focused on health and fitness, but I imagine in the coming months that will be something a lot more applicable to media," said Russell.

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Broadcast TV online and social media

When it comes to television, most people often want to watch their favourite shows online at a time that's convenient for them, said Matt Costain, digital platforms and services at SBS, who managers the On Demand online service. But watching TV online should be the same seamless experience as watching it straight from a TV, he said.

“We've started dipping our toes into the world of server side ad insertion. That improves the overall viewer experience by reducing buffering and so on when we play advertising, particularly in the middle of the video content.”

When paying video ads, the player pauses the video on a TV show to then fetch and play the ad, and then returns to the TV show. This is a fairly disjointed experience, Costain said.

“The calls are all made on the server side, then those ads are stitched into the video so it appears as a continuous piece of video. It removes the need for the player to go off and seek it from another destination.

“Users are not used to buffering when watching normal broadcast TV so we try to replicate that experience on the digital platforms.”

With the bulk of SBS viewers coming through social media channels, the broadcaster also integrates its social media feeds with its broadcast TV shows. Eurovision, one of SBS's largest televised annual events, is an example of this.

“Last year and the year before there was a SBS Eurovision hashtag that encouraged social media users and anyone watching the show to use. We would accept photos and comments that we pulled from the various social media channels, moderate them and push to display on the TV. So the audience could see their online interactions on TV, which was great. This was really well received,” Costain said.

News Corp Australia is also leveraging social media to add to its own content. Having acquired Storyful, which verifies if user generated content on social media is correct and credible, News Corp was able to identify, surface and re-distribute video footage of the November 2015 Paris attacks that people had taken on scene and uploaded to their social media accounts.

Storyful was able to validate whether the footage was real or fake and manage the rights of the content in terms of attributing the owner, or acquiring full rights so that it may be redistributed.

“Their job is to monitor all of the social media content that is being uploaded to all of the channels – they have hundreds of feeds that come in. They monitor that, they look for the stories that are trending," said Bowen.

"What is unique is they verify the content for its authenticity and credibility."

Supporting content producers

At the very core of media businesses are the content producers themselves – the journalists, the video editors, the photographers, or anyone who creates content. This means they need to be equipped with the right tools to do their jobs effectively.

At Bauer, the editorial teams each have their own visual dashboard, which is displayed on a wide screen placed in their section of the office space. It displays real time reporting of pageviews, trending articles, and so on, as well as how they are performing against their set targets. It was built using the Periscope dashboarding tool,” Rumble said.

Rumble also holds a twice a week analytics training session for editorial staff, so that they can not only get more familiar on how to use Google Analytics and Chartbeat, but also how to obtain more meaningful information from these tools so they can better shape their content strategy, or see which topics or types or content are working or not working with their audiences.

By putting the tools into content producers hands and providing the basic training and support to properly utilise them, it empowers them to take more initiative and make better decisions in their everyday work environment, Rumble said.

“Of course my team does deep dive analysis when we are asked to, but we are very strong on giving our editorial teams the tools they need to understand their audiences better and make changes and understand the impact of those changes.

“In my team, we are a bunch of data geeks. And even though we love content and media, we are definitely not the experts in that space. We are all about upskilling our editorial teams to do this stuff themselves because they are the people in the position to get the insights and do something with them,” Rumble said.

For Paul Russell, director of technology at Yahoo7, he understands the work of the editorial staff and the importance of meeting deadlines, especially as breaking news online first can pull a lot of traffic to the site. This means designing and building on a content management system that makes the journalists' task of uploading and publishing content as simple as possible.

“We are currently at the early stages of building our next generation of the editing interface in our content management system to optimise the work that our journalists do, to gather information from various sources as fast as they can so they can get breaking news stories up as fast as possible.

“It is optimising that workflow and pulling in information they would ordinarily have to go to multiple places to get. A lot of editorial is also video-led, so being able to pull a video into a text article in a really efficient way is a key part of the editorial process, so we can optimise how they do that,” he said.

News Corp Australia's innovation culture
Every quarter, News Corp holds a company wide 54-hour hackathon, where proof of concepts and prototypes are turned into real products and services that are pushed out into the market.

Having helped procure and set up an ideation platform to support the hackathon program that started in 2014, Alex Freeman, who is now CEO of Cloud.Co Asia, said the idea was to cultivate a culture of collaboration.

“Two developers progressively would realise they would need to make friends with somebody in user experience and marketing to have any chance of winning,” he said.

“It was initially just run in the digital business but then progressively scaled out into other parts of the business. The first one had 200 participants. It has extended into relationships with Fishburners and some of the startup incubators.

“We had people coming in from the startup incubators, from Twitter, Facebook and Google, to come and give talks on various things like how to use the Twitter API, etc. So it was really a good opportunity for people to effectively use it as a form of career development just by learning how to do these things.”

Freeman also helped build a voting system, which filtered down the projects that would be considered developing into live products and services.

“Every person gets 10 votes to use for each campaign, so if you see an idea you really like, you give all of your 10 votes to. These things run over a few weeks, so next week you might see another idea you like and take 7 votes back and allocate them to the other idea."

Before starting the next hackathon, an idea has to have made some progress, or be seen in the company to have further developed and gone live. This is important to keeping the momentum up and motivates participants because they can see their ideas really will be followed through, Freeman said.

“We are trying to create a culture of innovation at News Corp, and we think that's important because from that comes the conditions for creativity and collaboration between different groups. I think that all organisations need to be making time in employees remits for innovation and experimentation, as well as the big heavy lifting on transformation,” Bowen added.