Publishers Have Only Scratched the Surface of Audience Data
Publishers’ continue to improve their audience data savvy thanks to advances in digital technology. Today audience data is richer than ever before and allows publishers to understand how readers interact with different types of content on a wide variety of platforms. And data-powered algorithms are even allowing publishers to predict what their readers want to read next.
Although publishers have made great strides in understanding their audiences, Andrew Montalenti, CTO and co-founder of analytics platform Parse.ly, believes they have only scratched the surface. In the following interview, Montalenti shares his vision for the future of data analytics and publishing.
Parse.ly was a sponsor of the 2016 FUSE Media Summit.
What are the most important technologies shaping the media business today?
Media businesses run the web’s largest and most beloved websites. In the past, content management was one of the biggest challenges, but I think that’s now a solved problem. Though there are some rough spots recently with video, I think the core problems around content management will work themselves out in an incremental way.
Instead, the big opportunity for media businesses today is having a true understanding of their audience through data. I think we’ve only scratched the surface there. The world’s best media sites tailor experiences to user behavior — both algorithmically and editorially — with an assist from data tools. But many media companies are now figuring out ways to move beyond a surface-level understanding of audience into a true feedback loop that powers internal operations and the overall website experience.
What emerging technology or trends do you think will have a profound impact on the media business in 2020?
By 2020, I expect most media companies will have full control over their data in a way that they consider next-to-impossible right now.
One accelerator here: traditionally, media companies produced a lot of data, but it was quite painful to analyze — even when you had analysts and software engineers on-staff. For analysts, there is a rise of open APIs, clean data exports, and cloud analytics engines. Each of these make it much easier to access and query audience data to learn interesting insights. For software engineers, there is a huge push in the open source software world to provide commodity analysis tools, which lowers the barrier to entry for custom analysis. Combined, I think the content strategists of the future will be much more empowered by audience data, which will lead to a better understanding of not just media consumers, but also a deeper understanding of how the web and its various connected devices influence the spread of information.
What should media companies be doing now to prepare for the future and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology?
Media companies have to be taking stock of how their teams use data, and should question all assumptions about what a good data strategy entails. Within the last 2 years alone, we’ve introduced fundamentally new engagement metrics — such as engaged time and real-time social shares — that have completed shifted conversations around content strategy.
We have new metrics in the works that will result in other similar industry-wide shifts. The key to taking advantage of these changes in audience understanding is to be open to leveraging new metrics, as well as leveraging old metrics in new ways. And always connecting that data back to your core values, and not following the signals in the data blindly, but instead with the same skepticism you expect of the best journalists.
Why do you think media businesses should attend FUSE?
Now more than ever, media companies need to figure out what their expertise and value is — delivering news and information to readers — and then rely on partners that they can trust to solve other technical challenges that surround them.
Events like FUSE can be one of the most effective ways to do that, without the everyday distractions of the office that can distract and delay focus on long-term goals.
How are you helping media and publishing companies discover new technology-driven business opportunities?
We’re helping media companies in two ways: 1) By getting their editorial teams part of a culture that uses data well, and as part of their audience strategy in a way that’s meaningful to their unique goals and audience. And 2) By giving these companies access to connect their audience engagement data with their larger strategy, whether that’s subscriptions, ad revenue, premium content solutions or other unimagined options.