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AMSTERDAM—One of the standout topics for this year’s IBC has nothing to do with broadcast technology on the face of it, but everything to do with measuring audience responses in the newly connected world. Big data, a buzz phrase already getting frayed around the edges just as the broadcast industry jumps upon it, is the science of data analytics—of deep mining vast databases of information to present the customer with the choices they effectively already want, thus maximizing sales.

Big data’s use was pioneered in the retail industry, where a simplified example suggests that a customer who buys lots of meat in hot weather also buys charcoal for a barbecue. The two are linked in a database somewhere, and when a certain temperature trigger is reached, an email is sent out with barbecue-related special offers.

This all makes perfect sense for retail. But television has less of a direct billing relationship with the customer when out of the realms of pay TV. “That has meant as an industry that we haven’t had the opportunity before to capture data and leverage value from it,” said Sanjeevan Bala, Channel 4’s Head of Data Planning & Analytics. “What is creating opportunity is the rate that convergence is happening, which gives us a more natural return path for data.”

Channel 4 has been one of the most successful of the new big data exponents, first of all asking its viewers to re-register for its online 4oD-on-demand service to create a meaningful database. So far, it has used that information to hone its marketing collateral, targeting viewers’ likes and thus increasing click-throughs from email campaigns.

So much, so obvious—but Channel 4 also is building a predictive model that allows media buyers to trade and purchase slots for its video-on-demand audience. According to Bala, its next step will be extending big data’s influence back through the organization to the commissioning process.

This is probably why the IBC conference has closely associated the words big data with other ones like revolution in its own marketing collateral. However, its keynote on the subject is also titled “Big Data - Broadcasting’s New Oil or Digital Exhaust?” suggesting there is perhaps a degree of uncertainty over its billing as The Next Big Thing.

Bala concurs, saying that we will probably see as many high-profile failures to implement big data properly as successes over the next decade. And as, Michael Comish, co-founder of IPTV success story blinkbox and now Tesco Digital Entertainment CEO puts it, “It’s not data in itself that is helpful, it’s insight.”