A lot of things were big at IBC this year. The attendance and the exhibition, for instance, were bigger than ever. And there were a lot of big pictures around, as the 4k bandwagon gathered momentum.
But the really interesting discussions, in the conference and on the show floor, were around big data. This is a topic which has come from nowhere to be one of the major commercial drivers of the industry.
In media, we have two sorts of big data. There is the sort we have always had: we measure our assets – our content files – in gigabytes and even terabytes. So in that way our data has always been big.
It is one of the main reasons that the cloud is relatively slow to take off in broadcast and media. Moving those big files from wherever we are to wherever the cloud host is located is a big challenge. We do not want to be moving gigabytes of data around.
In its Awards Ceremony, IBC gave a special prize to a project called Vision Cloud. This is a collaboration between 15 vendors, broadcasters and universities to look at how media can take advantage of cloud processing. The work is already in use at Italian national broadcaster RAI.
One of the project’s big conclusions is that the only practical solution is to put the processing near the data, rather than moving the data to where you want to do something with it. They came up with a new name for this: the “storlet”. A storlet is an app that runs in the cloud, near the data, but controlled by a workflow on a user’s system.
Away from our industry, when people talk about big data they generally mean a huge accumulation of information about customers. We probably all carry in our purses and wallets at least one loyalty card, for a supermarket, an airline or a hotel chain. While retaining our loyalty is nice, what really drives these schemes for the businesses is the ability to learn more about our individual habits and preferences, and therefore how best they can serve us.
The traditional broadcast model was largely impervious to this sort of analysis: you sent the programmes and the commercials to the transmitter, and you had no idea who watched them beyond a broad idea of numbers. As we move to online interaction with our media suppliers, that is changing.
One of the scariest speakers in the IBC conference this year was Nick Cohen, MD of Mediacom Beyond Advertising. He said “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.”
If they are going to retain their businesses, then traditional broadcasters need to be addressing big data, alongside their new media competitors. That, in turn, means that business management software will take an ever more important role in broadcasting. Technical operations and workflows will be driven by commercial imperatives, in turn driven by continuous analysis of big data.
Software solutions, joining up every part and every level of a media business, are definitely the next big thing.