Letting the Machines Do the Work: What I’m Eager to Learn at About at the FUSE Media Summit
One of my favorite interviews during my time at Publishing Executive was with the then VP of Data for Hearst Corporation Rick McFarland. McFarland likened the work he was doing at Hearst to integrate systems and data throughout the organization to the construction of the US Interstate Highway System, which accelerated speed of communication, connectivity, and commerce throughout the country. Many other publishing and media companies have similarly been working on building their infrastructure.
Now we’re entering the next phase of construction: the Automation Phase.
Now that the main highways have been built, Phase 2 of publishers’ infrastructure build will see the implementation of more and more technologies that extract actionable insights, and automate and accelerate the decision making and work that previously required human resources.
With the FUSE Media Summit coming up October 1-3, I wanted to highlight some of the key technology themes I’ll be keeping an eye on at the summit, which very much point to the mounting Automation Phase. I expect these will also be key areas that will guide our coverage of digital technology over the next 12-18 months. (For those that can’t attend the summit, we’ll be doing plenty of post-event coverage to spread the intelligence shared at the summit.)
Running Theme: AI & Machine Learning
Earlier this week, we announced the Futurist Keynote for the FUSE Media Summit – a session titled AI Will Be Truly Transformational If We’re Willing to Fail. In this session, Kartik Hosanagar, the John C. Hower Professor of Technology and Digital Business at The Wharton School, will explore how media companies can best position themselves to harness the transformative power of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
As digital disruption has become a constant in the media industry, publishers have become fatigued from buying technologies that don’t deliver the ROI they expected. However, in some (many?) cases it might not be the technology that is the problem.
Hosanagar’s point is that in order to truly realize the transformational potential of AI, companies must adapt their organizational DNA to support new skillsets, increase their tolerance for experimentation and failure, and boost organizational learning and consensus building.
To put it another way, a tool is only as good as the craftsman’s ability to use it. I’ve heard plenty of stories of publishers being miffed by a tech buy but admitting that maybe they didn’t support with the right talent and/or a realistic allocation of their time to learn the tool, apply it to their business, and educate the rest of the organization.
At one point we debated whether to have a standalone session on AI or to include it as a talking point in each of the relevant sessions. I guess we decided to have our cake and eat it too. I expect AI will be part of individual talks focusing on programmatic advertising, ecommerce, customer data platforms, and more.
Intelligence, Decision Making, and CDPs
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post titled “Insights & Decisions Are “The Brain” of the Media Tech Stack.” Based on this year’s media tech buying report, it’s clear publishers are looking for ways to capitalize on a big Phase 1 effort: developing unified audience databases. Now publishers are realizing that extracting insights from large swaths of data and making it actionable is another step to monetizing their audience data. And now’s the time, as GDPR-spurred shifts away from the use of third-party data by brands presents a big opportunity for publishers that have the ability to sophisticatedly manipulate their data to drive marketer KPIs – and just as important – elegantly demonstrate this to marketers.
CDPs will factor significantly in this space, as they promise to make the valuable behavioral data that publishers have on their audiences far more actionable/monetizeable. CDPs were buzzy at the 2016 FUSE Media Summit. Now with a couple years of adoption under their belts, it will be interesting to hear what’s working and what’s not. (See panel: How Publishers Are Taking Advantage of CDPs).
Beyond CDPs, any analytics tools that help publishers intelligently connect their two biggest assets – content and audience data – will be a big focus at the summit this year.
Workflow & Project Management
In a bit of a shocker, in our tech buying report the Workflow & Project Management technology category popped up on the top 10 list of technologies publishers are shopping for this year. Albeit in a small sample size, publishers also pointed to Workflow & Project Management as the number one technology they associate with revenue growth.
As the media company product portfolio has multiplied, processes and systems haven’t always kept up. The internet has disrupted the way customers find out about and buy products in every industry, but for the media industry, the actual products have increased dramatically in complexity and number.
If publishers are not yet fully capitalizing on their content and audience assets (which I believe to be true), it’s because their capabilities often outstrip what they can actually execute, in large part because they lack the tools and systems to make these capabilities scalable. And for good reason, of course, because tools and systems can be expensive. That cost can often be prohibitive when the ROI is cost savings and not direct revenue. It’s not as neat of an equation. But publishers are clearly beginning to shift their thinking and eye workflow solutions to make new revenue lines more scalable.
Automation will also play a huge part in streamlining workflow. Content distribution can be offloaded from humans and optimized if done programmatically. Content creation and intelligence gathering/reporting will be the next step. And prescriptive content analytics will further augment editorial strategy.
The emergence of the Automation Phase means robots will increasingly be employed to handle the menial work that editorial, marketing, and audience development professionals have picked up as the product portfolio has splintered, which will free up their bandwidth for tasks that require high analytical and emotional IQ. Not to mention, publishing professionals will be supported by superhuman decision making.
If you haven’t applied to attend the FUSE Media Summit, complete an inquiry form here. There are a few remaining spots as of the date of this post.
Denis Wilson is the content director for Book Business and Publishing Executive as well as the FUSE Media and FUSE Digital Marketing summits. In this role, he analyzes and reports on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aims to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.