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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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Load-shedding leads
local searches

South Africans are searching in the dark, according to the latest Google Search trends.

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With more 1 million search queries generated in the space of 76 hours, load-shedding was by far the top trending search on Google South Africa this week.

Valentine’s Day came a distant second.

After news emerged last Sunday of the impending stage 3 load shedding, South Africans had generated more than 1-million load-shedding search queries by the time Tuesday came around:

  • “Loadshedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Eskom load shedding” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding Cape Town” – generated more than 50k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 400k on Monday
  • “Load shedding Johannesburg” – generated more than 20k searches on Monday
  • Load shedding schedule” generated more than 200k search queries on Tuesday

Leading up to Valentine’s Day, South Africans generated close to 300k search queries related to the romantic festival, including searches for quotes and gift ideas:

  • “Valentines Day” generated more than 100k search queries on Thursday
  • “Happy Valentines Day Images” and “Valentines Day Images” generated more than 10k search queries each on Thursday, with “Happy Valentines Day 2019” generating more than 20k search queries on Wednesday
  • “Valentines Day Specials 2019” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Love quotes” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Valentines Day quotes” generated more than 100k search queries and “Valentine messages” generated more than 50 000 search queries on Wednesday

Search trends information is gleaned from data collated by Google based on what South Africans have been searching for and asking Google. Google processes more than 40 000 search queries every second. This translates to more than a billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Live Google search trends data is available at https://www.google.co.za/trends/hottrends#pn=p40

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Showmax invites
student films

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Thanks to the growing popularity of video-on-demand services, there’s a new opportunity to help kickstart the careers of local filmmakers.

Numerous Hollywood blockbusters (District 9Tomb Raider 2018, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron to name a few) have featured substantial shoots in Johannesburg and Cape Town. While providing great opportunities for SA’s production talent, aspiring writers and directors don’t get the same benefit.

So where can local creatives showcase their work? Broadcast TV isn’t a natural home for unknown short films, and while self-publishing platforms are readily available hosting options, it’s tough to get noticed and get traffic when competing with videos from across the planet.

But with the emergence of video-on-demand services into the mainstream, there’s now a solution. The African film school AFDA has teamed up with the streaming service Showmax to give local talent a much larger platform than ever before. From 18 February, eighteen of the best recent short films made by AFDA students from their Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth campuses will be live on Showmax. Drama, documentary, fantasy, and animation are all represented, in pieces running from under eight minutes to almost half-an-hour long. The full list of movies is included below.

Teresa Passchier, CEO of AFDA, said: “AFDA, Africa’s number-one school for the Creative Economy, is proud to kickstart this exciting and meaningful journey with Showmax and AFDA students, ensuring emerging young African filmmakers’ voices are heard and given a platform. It’s ground-breaking to share young, local, culturally relevant content on the same platform as Hollywood blockbusters. I am certain that this unique initiative will serve to boost and develop the African film industry and the careers of many young South African and African students alike.”

Included in the short films coming to Showmax are the award winners Junior and O-PunchaJunior, directed by Bert Dijkstra, picked up the Audience Award in the Made in South Africa Competition at the shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival Awards 2017. O-Puncha, directed by Adam Hansen, won two awards at the 5th annual Eldorado Film Festival: Best Student Made Short, and Best Editing – Alexander La Cock.

Another celebrated film is Sicela Amanzi directed by Mlu Godola, which talks to the subject of water shortage. The film’s heroine Zoleka is a mild-mannered young woman forced to go to extreme lengths when a small community’s only source of water unexpectedly collapses. The power of films like this is they shine a light on critical topical issues in new ways.

Speaking about working with the film school, Candice Fangueiro, Head of Content for Showmax, said: “There’s immense depth of filmmaking talent in Africa and it’s a privilege to be able to give that talent a home and a platform. Showmax is becoming part of the fabric of film and TV production in Africa, and importantly we’re doing this as a partner rather than just as a consumer. This is a key competitive advantage of being local and something we aim to continue to work on.”

AFDA is an Academy Award-winning institution, founded in 1994, and the first and only African film school to win an Oscar – for the Best Foreign Student film in 2006, the postgraduate film Elalini, directed by Tristan Holmes.

The full list of AFDA short films coming to Showmax is as follows:

Film titleDirectorGenre
Lullaby from the CryptKeenan Lott & Raven DavidsAnimation
Ko Ga CherenyaneSibonokuhle MyatazaDocumentary
IzilwaneKyllian RouxDrama
MallemeuleJaco Van BoschDrama
Canal StreetBrodie MuirheadDrama
On the FenceWarrick BewsDrama
The Righteous FewLindo LangaDrama
Hlogoma PeakLuke AhrensDrama
Frozen FlameCameron HeathmanAnimation
WolfBrett van DortFantasy
The Walk HomeSisanda DyantyiDrama
BearWesley RoodtDrama
JuniorBert DijkstraDrama
O-PunchaAdam HansenDrama
UmngenoSiphosethu NdungeDrama
DoreenLuvuyo Equiano NyawoseDrama
ForeverLindo LangaMusical
Sicela AmanziMlu GodolaDrama

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