The Path From Data to Wisdom
By Alison Lowery, chief technology officer, Simulmedia -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/13/2012 2:20:51 PM
Coming from the online space and having dealt with large data sets about online visitor behaviors, I have had to learn some challenging lessons about the complexities of dealing with data about TV in general, and anonymous set-top box data, specifically. Understanding how to make any data actionable and useful has been a long-standing challenge. Researchers in knowledge management have been proposing and discussing frameworks that describe the continuum of data to information to knowledge to wisdom for the past 40 years in order to support better decision making. I think about transforming set-top box data into actions as the path from data to wisdom.
A set-top box is a device that enables televisions to receive and display television signals. It also enables the multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) to collect information about set-top box activities. While many of the multichannel video program distributors and set-top box technology companies have begun to productize the anonymous set-top box data available to third parties, there are still no standards. A set-top box event can represent an action (a channel change) or an activity (viewing a channel for a period of time). Set-top box logs can represent a single day's events or all available events for a period of time for a given set-top box. Time zones, channels, call sign, network and regions differ across set-top box data providers. Without the addition of program scheduling data and ad run logs, there is no way to know what program or commercials were aired at the time the set-top box was tuned to a given channel. On its own without translation and transformation, set-top box data truly helps us "know nothing."
Set-top box data must be translated and transformed before it is informative. Designing the data model to provide a universal view of disparate datasets is an important first step. Determining appropriate cap and edit rules and data mapping requirements come next. Finally, the data transformation processes must be developed to align event times, interpret viewer actions, map channels to networks and programs, reform the data and evaluate data quality for hundreds of millions of events every day. This effort gives you a view into what set-top box data can tell you about millions of anonymized TV viewers.
Gaining knowledge from set-top box data requires understanding how each data set relates to the others. Cross-data validation ensures that the transformation results are valid and helps you understand how viewing characteristics differ across MVPDs, regions, networks and day parts. At Simulmedia, we developed methods to ensure visibility within the set-top box data of the Simulmedia Audience Network footprint and to convert device-based campaign measures into Nielsen national household measures, which enable us to plan and measure audience targeted television campaigns.
Now as an emerging industry, we are focused on developing techniques that make us wiser -- techniques to better forecast reach, to better optimize campaigns and to better measure small, unrated networks and day parts among other interesting experiments. My most valuable lesson on how to turn set-top box data into actionable insights is that a universal data model, data management processes, data mapping, event interpretation, data validation, statistical and machine learning techniques are all needed.
Even though transforming set-top box data and Web log data is quite different, the potential to impact the advertising industry is very similar. Just as Web log data gave advertisers the ability to move beyond contextual targeting to visitor-based behavioral targeting on the Web, set-top box data is giving advertisers the ability to find their desired, often hard-to-reach, audience on unexpected, undervalued networks and dayparts on television. Just as Web log data gave advertisers new, powerful insights about the effectiveness of their online campaigns, set-top box data is powering new insights about television viewing, television audiences and commercial viewing.
Simulmedia Inc., a TV ad company based in New York, operates the Simulmedia Audience Network, the world's first data-driven audience network for television. The company's targeting platform leverages predictive technologies and anonymous viewing data from more than 30 million U.S. TV viewers to help national advertisers and their agencies better reach their target audiences, and better measure the results.
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