Big Data Demystified
By Bruce Tuchman
If you’ve been working in the media business over the past five to ten years, there’s a term you’ve no doubt heard tossed around frequently by market analysts, IT and research professionals: “Big Data.” It has quickly become the technology trend that is profoundly affecting the way we use information to improve our businesses–from enhancing the customer experience and improving our products and services, to finding untapped sources of revenue and helping us track audience engagement with content and brands. However, not a lot of people can explain what Big Data really is, and if you ask any number of your more technically inclined colleagues, you’re likely to get the same number of different answers.
As a buyer of content and a seller of channels around the world for the past two decades plus, I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of empirical data available to me to make sound market-by-market programming decisions. So when I started hearing about some groundbreaking young companies that were upending the traditional ratings measurement system with Big Data, I was intrigued enough to do a little digging, which began with my asking this basic question: “What is Big Data?”
We cannot escape the fact that we now live in a digital universe where everything and anything we do leaves a digital trace we call data. With well over one trillion web pages, the Internet offers us unparalleled interconnectivity. Each one of these interactions generates data that is coursed through and recorded in the web. As a result, it is continuously overflowing with massive data so huge that it is almost impossible to digest or crunch into usable segments for practical applications. This enormous, ever-growing data that goes through and is stored within the web, together with the technologies designed to handle it, is what is collectively referred to as Big Data.
So how big is Big Data? Think of the web, which currently covers more than 100 million domains and is still growing at the rate of 20,000+ new domains every single day. The data that comes from these domains is so massive and mind-boggling that until recently has been practically immeasurable, much less manageable by any traditional extrapolation methods that are available today. In essence, if and when data sets grow extremely big or become excessively complex and unwieldy for traditional data management tools to handle, it is considered “Big Data.”
Every day, our society is creating about 3 quintillion bytes of data. This is 3 followed by 18 zeros … and that is EVERY day! With this massive stream of data, the need to make sense of this becomes more crucial and has quickly increased demand for Big Data understanding.
Hidden deep within the torrent of the Big Data information stream is a wealth of useful knowledge and valuable behavioral and market patterns that can be used by media companies (big and small) to fuel their growth and profitability. However, such valuable information has to be mined and refined to be put to good use. This cumbersome process is called Big Data analytics. It’s what gives Big Data its shine and makes it usable for application to specific cases and needs. Without analytics, Big Data is nothing more than a bunch of meaningless digital garbage.
The science of tapping Big Data and then analyzing it for a more accurate view of any given market has been around for a long time, but in recent years new companies are building unbelievably facile algorithms and intelligent mining tools to tap into media use that involves so much more than who’s watching what and when. These companies can chart precise demos of who is watching, and how many people are engaged with a show or channel by tracking social media references to that title or brand, blog references, downloads, streams, torrent site activity, podcasts, and a lot more. Literally billions of points of data can be synthesized intelligently and in seconds. Conventional ratings gathering systems and panel sessions seem Medieval by comparison. Too much money is at stake in reliance on transacting the business the old or conventional way, while at the same time these brilliant, yet cost effective big data measuring tools can measure out with complete empirical accuracy the answers that traditional tools only base on extrapolation or hypotheses.
This tipping point is here. So don’t let the techy term confound and intimidate you. Big Data is becoming a key intelligence weapon in the battle to stay relevant and smart during uncertain and complex market changes. Use it to win your battles.
Bruce Tuchman is a global media advisor, investor and entrepreneur. Previously, he ran the global channel businesses of AMC/Sundance TV, MGM Worldwide Networks and Nickelodeon International. Recently, he joined the Board of data science company Parrot Analytics.