Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Put data at the top of the list

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast February 28, 2013

Broadcasters should learn from Ocado’s model, says Kate Bulkley

I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to the supermarket any more. I have my groceries delivered by Ocado, which isn’t owned by one of the bricks-and-mortar chains.

Instead, it has supply agreements and a warehouse picking, packing and delivery model that is driven by data – lots of it.

At Ocado warehouses, a ‘picker’ fills my online basket from ‘stations’ visited by a conveyor belt, in a system designed to move each order out in 40 minutes. That means hours, rather than days, later a driver is carrying supplies into my kitchen.

What has this got to do with television? Well, Shine Group chief executive Alex Mahon became a non-executive director of Ocado last year and, having worked as an Ocado ‘picker’ as part of her induction process, she has lots of admiration for how the grocer has put data at the centre of its business. And she’s keen to bring some of those lessons to Shine, just as Netflix used data to help make a success of House Of Cards, which it claims has just become the most streamed piece of content in the US and 40 other countries.

It used data from its 33 million worldwide subscribers to design the perfect show for its customers – it calculated that based on how star Kevin Spacey, director David Fincher and the original BBC series appealed to its subscribers, there was no way the new series could fail.

What Mahon saw in her Ocado induction was the efficient system of the online shop, especially at its warehouse, where the layout is designed based on data rather than food groups. Even substitutions of unavailable products with the next-best alternative are informed by data, rather than fallible humans who might not know their white asparagus from their courgette flower.

So Mahon now gets even more frustrated with broadcasters such as the BBC and C4, which, she says, are not providing all the data she needs about the Shine shows they broadcast. For example, Utopia on Channel 4 had live audiences of between 650,000 and 1.1 million, but consolidated up to more than 1.5 million. But when exactly are people watching the show after live broadcast? And who are these people? Are they young or old? Unemployed or professionals?

To help fill the data gap, Shine is working with social media, with exercises such as producing word maps of the social media interaction during one of its programmes. That organises all the words used on social media about a TV show by font size, providing a visual clue as to what the blogosphere was chatting about.

“We need to build up our marketing skills and how to market our shows directly to the consumer,” says Mahon. The fact that Shine purchased online channel operator Channel Flip helps, but she is hungry for more and better data from her main partners, the TV broadcasters, not to mention from YouTube.

The Ocado founders were a couple of talented Goldman Sachs numbers guys, and Mahon believes TV production and broadcasting could benefit from that kind of thinking – not to the exclusion of creative input and talented TV types who think outside of the box, but certainly more than is currently the case. Is it a good idea? Let me run the numbers for you.

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