How big data helps TV networks respond to viewer demand

The huge rise of technology such as mobile devices and social media in recent years is having a major impact on how many firms interact with consumers and look to boost engagement with their products and services. And nowhere has this trend been more profound than in the entertainment industry.

Sites such as Twitter and Facebook have proven to be invaluable marketing tools for TV and film producers, as they can help to quickly spread the word about the latest hot trends and big shows. And with the rise in use of devices like tablets and smartphones, the industry has quickly become aware of the potential offered by 'second-screening', or engaging with viewers on their mobile device while they are simultaneously watching TV.

But this leads to many questions and challenges for these companies – such as how they can ensure they're offering the best user experience and providing interactive offerings their viewers will actually respond to. And this is where big data analytics plays a key role, as the insight gained from this is increasingly shaping the strategies these firms take.

This is a huge transformation from just a few years ago. For instance, Variety stated in a recent article that when US network ABC became the first broadcaster in the country to offer a companion iPad app for its shows four years ago, it had no idea how its viewers wanted to interact, so was essentially guessing what would be successful.

But fast-forward to today and analytics is at the heart of everything the network does when it comes to interacting with consumers on their mobiles, executive vice-president and chief product officer for digital media for the Disney/ABC Television Group Albert Cheng told the publication. And this has helped direct the firm's strategy to bring its digital offerings much more in line with want viewers want.

For instance, the company was aware that many consumers these days like to use a second screen such as a smartphone or tablet when watching TV, so it determined they would respond well to additional content such as interactive games and polls delivered to mobile devices to tie in with live programming.

But Mr Cheng explained that this actually turned out not to be as popular as anticipated – and it was big data analytics that provided the answer as to why.

ABC had assumed that when viewers were turning to a second screen while watching TV, they were interacting with content related to the show. But the firm's data analytics revealed this was not the case.

"The reality is that if you dig deep into the behaviour, only a small percentage of people are interacting with anything related to the show," Mr Cheng said. "They're tweeting or on Facebook or checking email. We were tackling it the wrong way."

This has therefore greatly helped shape ABC's newest mobile app, WATCH, which incorporates social features into its live streaming service so users do not have to navigate away from the app, which enables ABC to control how its shows appear on social media platforms, but also makes it easier for viewers to access the sequences they want to share.

"We wanted it to be seamless experience," Mr Cheng said. "We wanted to create a natural environment that presents an opportunity to inject content into social platforms."

The insights gained from big data analytics have been at the centre of many of the features ABC now offers to its mobile users, based on in-depth examinations of what its consumers actually want and respond well to. For instance, the results of this have also led to the firm redesigning the overall look of the app, making features easier to access and understand.