How Big Data Will Transform Our Media Experiences (In a Good Way)

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h1 We are nothing more or less than we choose to reveal.

Frances Underwood, House of Cards

Where do you get your news today? Chances are, you’re relying on the Internet and mobile now more than ever. In fact, television has much less reach when it comes to news reporting because of the exponential improvements in social media and mobile technologies.

For newspapers like The Washington Post or The New York Times, these numbers have been grim for some time now. Subscribers are down, digital is in, and mobile has been challenging the publishing industry in ways it can’t even imagine right now. Even the old saw “Content is King” seems to be under attack. As Gartner analyst Johan Jacobs said at a recent Customer 360 Summit, “You can have the best content in the world, but if your customers can’t find it, it doesn’t matter.”

Enter the (Big Data) Dragon. For those in the publishing business, they might just be sitting on their own gold and not even know it. True, Big Data is not necessarily a familiar term within publishing – or even in digital media content, for that matter - but if content is king, then CUSTOM content - made possible by Big Data – rules the world.

According to a recent Customer Content Council study:

· 90% of consumers find custom content useful

· 78% believe that organizations providing custom content are interested in building good relationships with them

· 61% of people feel better about a company that delivers custom content and are more likely to buy from that company

Will the publishing and digital media business begin to realize that matching the audience members with content they want is more important than ‘growing numbers’ at any cost? As Alan Mutter at Reflections of a Newsosaur points out, Big Data’s ‘predictive matching’ could reap big benefits:

For instance, a website could detect someone’s job changes by matching his reading patterns against millions of other monthly site visits. Based on this, if Mrs. Laura Smith is spotted with a 70% probability to have been: promoted as a marketing manager in a San Diego-based biotech startup (five items), she can be served with targeted advertising especially if she has also appears to be an active hiker (sixth item).

More importantly, over time, the website could slightly tailor itself: of course, Mrs Smith will see more biotech stories in the business section than the average reader, but the Art & Leisure section will select more contents likely to fit her taste, the Travel section will look more like an outdoor magazine than a guide for compulsive urbanites. Progressively, the content Mrs. Smith gets will become both more useful and engaging.

The audience grows (and remains loyal) because the content is relevant and customized to the individual, delivered in the medium of choice.

One of the wizards of Big Data digital media right now is Netflix. That House of Cards was a huge hit for Netflix was apparently not a surprise to anyone at Netflix. The company's own Big Data number-crunching predicted the hit even before it bid on the show. Subscriber data – by the way, a familiar term for newspaper publishers – determined that with the topic (political intrigue), the director (David Fincher), and the main character (Kevin Spacey), the show would have an eager, ready-made audience. They were spectacularly right, and the rest (Orange is the New Black and Arrested Development) is history. (There’s a reason the Weinstein Company recently inked a deal for output with Netflix. Harvey Weinstein in a statement, said the pact “is probably the biggest deal in the history of The Weinstein Company.”)

Data-driven content creation and predictive matching is here to stay. In retail, brand giant Walmart is using big data from 10 different websites to feed shopper and transaction data into an analytical system. The goal is to sell more by customizing the product selections for the shopper. And the undisputed leader in the space, Amazon, uses 1 million Hadoop clusters to support their affiliate network, risk management, machine learning, website updates, and more. After all, Amazon was perhaps the first to tap into the custom content universe in a big way. Who can forget the “Others who bought this book also liked…..” feature now legendary in the industry.

This would all serve today’s digital-mobile-social-cloud customer who expects her favorite content providers and brands to know what she want and help her either find it, or have it custom-created. Sports marketing gets this, travel marketing gets this, Netflix and other movie producers get this, and advertisers - and publishers - are beginning to get this.

Publishers own their own (big) subscriber data. There is no reason they can’t jump on the transformation bandwagon and serve up custom content people want - on the device they want it.

Beverly Macy is the CEO of Gravity Summit , co-author of The Power of Real-Time Social Media Marketing, podcast host, and frequently writes about Big Data. Follow her on Twitter @BeverlyMacy.