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How data should work: a CNN perspective

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The value of an audience is diminished if a company doesn’t understand it. It’s for this reason that real-time data insights play an important role in every part of a media company’s business, writes ROB BRADELY at CNN.

When did data become the zeitgeist of modern media? It’s hard to put your finger on any exact moment, but what’s beyond doubt is that the influence of data is here to stay and will only grow. To understand an audience, feed an algorithm or inform real-time bidding – data and insight have roles to play in every part of a media company’s business.

No more so than at a company like CNN. We’ve built up a huge digital audience at scale over the years, but the value of that audience is diminished if we can’t understand it, respond to our users’ behaviour and harness the insight for our advertisers. Sounds a mighty task, right? Well, it would be downright impossible if we didn’t have data insight.

Take, for instance, how data works in understanding and targeting an audience. Is it better to start with a large audience dataset then narrow in and optimise targeting or better to start with a tight dataset and broaden if delivery is hard or it’s underperforming?

Having worked with publisher data using several data management platforms for four years now, I’ve come to understand that this balance is vital to the success of a data-targeted campaign. Utilising the platform to create both broad and tight datasets to optimise dynamically against is key. Specific segments should be fluid because one set audience won’t always behave the same for every campaign. By using the real-time data insight and reporting back to the client, the marketing message can be tailored for best success during the campaign or the next.

The bad news for smaller publishers is that only large scale allows you to start big and tighten in segments to meet performance goals. Without the scale in the first place, where do you go to optimise? Some Western European and US media owners can utilise third party data, but other regions will struggle to find meaningful volume of accurate data, or indeed, any data at all.

Scale can be bought in other ways, of course – huge audiences are available to any advertiser happy to be cast adrift in an ocean of inventory. Even I can put money into Facebook to boost a post on a hobby page if I wanted to target a group of users by demographic or interest anywhere in the world. However, what about context, environment and a site’s natural audience harnessed over years of providing quality content? This means something before data even enters the room.

Programmatic trading struggled for credibility in its formative years, but as premium publishers entered the arena programmatic became a means to reach upscale audiences. With premium publishers also comes reassurance around ad fraud – we like humans seeing our ads not bots – and marketers could take heart that even without the data to back up the results, they broadly knew what type of upmarket users their message would be reaching.

We need to be wary of an over-reliance on data because a great creative solution in a relevant environment can succeed on its own, and we don’t want to risk creeping out a user by over-targeting them; but, overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives as long as we’re sensible. In fact, data-informed decisions about capping frequency of ads and re-targeting can enhance the user experience and make our audience less likely to want to install that pesky ad-blocker.

However, for me, the biggest opportunity for using data to its full potential is in the area of reporting. Not so long ago a tedious chore delegated to the most junior member of staff, data-rich reporting is enabling publishers to deliver true audience insight to clients. At a time when there’s so much competition for ad dollars, the onus is on the publisher to go beyond the click through rate.

There’s a whole range of complex metrics – viewability, engagement, dwell-time and audience behaviour before, during and after they visit our site – that we can use to tell an important story: what type of audience saw your ad, how did they react to it, what was their next step, and how we can better serve them in the future. Only then, can we as an industry truly say that we’re not just relying on scale, and that we really understand the opportunity of the data revolution.

* Rob Bradley is director of digital advertising revenue and data at CNN International

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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