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Going large by Dick Hobbs F irst, I would like you to watch a five minute video. You can find it at Watched it? Good. Yes, I know the girl is intensely irritating – no-one in real life is ever that cheery. But it gets over an important point, I think: we generate huge amounts of data which, if we are happy to share it, can bring distinct benefits. All very well, I hear you say, if you are trying to sell coats to fashionable young ladies. But what has it got to do with the television industry? I will come on to that in a moment. There is a somewhat vague concept in the IT industry today called “big data”. According to Wikipedia, “big data is the term for a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications”. Which makes it sound like a problem rather than an opportunity. In television we are in the big data business, simply because we generate a lot of data. According to McKinsey, in April 2011 the US Library of Congress – generally regarded as one of the repositories of all knowledge – collected 235 terabytes of data. Shooting the first of the Peter Jackson Hobbit films created about the same amount of data, so we can amass big data standing on our heads. What people are increasingly talking about when they say big data is nothing to do with the size, but the way in which it is used. It is what we might call “joined up thinking”: taking what we already know and using it to make intelligent decisions. If you watched the video the intelligence points were made very obviously: she’s 98 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 82 OCTOBER 2013 a girl who has bought a new coat so of course she wants to Instagram it to her friends. But business analysts McKinsey reckon that, applied properly, big data systems could have huge value. It could be worth 250 billion euros to the public sector in Europe, it calculates, which is more than the GDP of Greece (although probably the dress shop in the video has a bigger turnover than Greece’s GDP today). To get back to our industry, I have to report that big data principles were everywhere at IBC this year, and infinitely more interesting than the headline news about 4K. Companies like Digital Rapids are making complex workflows which depend upon intelligent automated decision making. TMD is linking asset management with business analytics so that content workflows are entirely determined by commercial requirements, and technical reports are expressed in costs per deliverable. But the real battleground for big data is in audience engagement, and therefore who gets the advertising eyeballs. Nick Cohen, MD of Mediacom Beyond Advertising, told the IBC conference “Ten years ago the traditional media owned the classified advertising space and now Google owns it. “Google is focusing a lot of attention on broadcasting, and they have a formidable group working there who want to take the money that now goes into TV.” Scary. Veteran engineer Clyde Smith of Fox said “The future is more connected devices and screens everywhere, including the front of your refrigerator and microwave, and that spells huge opportunity.” Bob Harris of Channel 4 in the UK explained just how big the data is, recounting that the broadcaster regularly processes between five and 10 billion rows of data, each containing 25,000 characters. “That’s 3.4 million copies of Shakespeare. It would take on average 23,000 years to read it.” So Channel 4 knows a huge amount about its audience, not least through the nine million people currently signed up to its 4oD catch-up platform. Does this mean that the holy grail – or ultimate nightmare, depending on your point of view – of targeted advertising is finally upon us? “It would be a mistake to assume that big data is all about ad targeting,” Harris told the IBC conference. “I think we are only at the beginning of what we are going to do with this data.” There is, inevitably, a website called On it you can read a fascinating article by JP Rangaswami, who is chief scientist at He says “We’re fast approaching a time when it becomes possible to connect everything and everyone to the internet. “We may have an internet of everything, but some things don’t change. Everything we do is about people, and about the trust that binds us together. The internet of everything is not a technological revolution, it’s a trust revolution.” Broadcasters are widely regarded as highly trusted brands. It is now up to clever people to see how those trusted brands fit into this trust revolution. Big data is coming: it is inevitable, and early users are already knocking on our doors. We need to be smart enough to seize all the opportunities to use it for the good of our industry, and for the huge mass of consumers who trust us to inform, educate and entertain them.