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How to Use Data to Drive Online Video Success

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If you need to analyze data for thousands of content partners, finding good tools becomes key to your business. Layser uses Tableau to help see and understand trends. "When you have a partnership you're handling that has many dozens of channels, you need some centralized location where you can categorize and manipulate data to get a clear understanding about how the partnership is performing," says Layser. "For example, I have over 800 Fullscreen accounts on the platform. If I want to see how all those accounts are performing collectively from a revenue standpoint or from a traffic standpoint, Tableau allows us to easily arrange that data."

On the partner side, Dailymotion offers two types of measurement tools. "The traffic dashboard is a lot of view data—minutes watched, geography, what the audience retention is, percent of video watched, domain breakdown [for embedded content], and traffic sources," says Layser. "The revenue dashboard is a day-by-day breakdown of impressions, average CPM [cost per thousand], and estimated revenue per day."

Partners with content on multiple platforms such as Dailymotion, YouTube, and go90 need to be able to grab the data from their partners and crunch the numbers themselves, says Layser. "It's really important to them to be able to  export spreadsheets from our dashboards to a CSV file and drop them into a centralized database [so they can compare how activity does on different locations], rather than having to manually see something in a dashboard and have an intern actually trying to create a spreadsheet," he says.

This brings up two very important points. First, the manual handling of data easily allows errors to be introduced. Second, standardized metrics are critical, so publishers can compare apples with apples.

Data-Driven Creative

Our next media company is going data first when it comes to designing content. Whistle Sports' focus is providing content to young millennial sport fans. "The truth is, sports happens billions of times a day in backyards, in parking lots, in playgrounds, in practice fields, sometimes even in office buildings, and that can be at least as compelling as that live sporting event if you aggregate it," says Brian Selander, EVP at Whistle Sports. Viewers are highly engaged by this content, so Whistle Sports is able to monetize it not by selling ads but by finding sponsors. This is the latest approach brands, sports leagues, and media companies are taking to combat ad backlash and ad blockers.

Competing with live content can be challenging, but Whistle Sports is creating evergreen branded entertainment. "If you're a brand or agency and the content you've created with us can be rediscovered in a month or 6 months and be as interesting to somebody, that's an investment that pays off repeatedly," says Selander. "This means it's important to figure out what's going to work before you make it. Sports that really engages young millennial audiences needs to be research and insight first, content second."

So far, Whistle Sports' insight has proved successful. Since its launch in January 2014, it has attracted 190 million followers in the 14–32 age range across all social platforms, and it attracts 2 million new followers a week. The company has approximately 400 content partners, such as Dude Perfect, a group of entertaining guys broadcasting a reality show, sporting event, and long-form commercial all rolled into one.

"I'll often say at conferences, we need to liberate brands and agencies from the tyranny of the view count," says Selander. "I think particularly in the digital space, people remain hung up on how many views something gets and are less concerned about the more important number, which is how engaging this content is and how often people are actively sharing it.

"Before we bring any creator into the environment we take a hard look at the data around their engagement, their viewability, and their scalability. We are data-driven from the beginning of any decisions," says Selander. "We get hundreds of millions of data points a month from interactions between creators, content, and fans that we analyze to see what works best."

Whistle Sports looks at data points like what time of day content is viewed, what brand integration is connecting most strongly, and what words in the video description may make viewers more likely to engage with content. All stories are crafted based on the insight Whistle Sports gains from its persistent focus on translating data into valuable analytics. "We may follow a particular video minute-by-minute after it launches, and we can also have insight across the network on an hour-by-hour basis," says Selander. "Then at the end of the month we can compile that to see if there are any emerging trends we might not have seen if we were too in the forest and not standing outside of it. Media has always been data-driven; it's just the immediacy and levels on which that feedback happens are now far more connected."

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While Whistle Sports is experiencing great success curating its viewers' experiences, our next company is there to help when you want to watch something, but you're faced with too many choices.

Most of the major TV Everywhere (TVE) providers use tools from Digitalsmiths to identify trends and build on user preferences. "The old Amazon model is, ‘This show is similar to these three things, so you might be interested,'" says Billy Purser, VP of marketing at Digitalsmiths. "We take into consideration what that person typically watches, on what type of device, at a particular time, then make sure it's blended into the recommendation." The number of data sources on which Digitalsmiths bases its analytics varies from 10 to a couple thousand pieces of information, including scheduling data, what's on now, what's available to a subscriber, third-party critics' ratings, popularity, type of content, mobile location, and device type.

How do you make sense of thousands of pieces of information? Digitalsmiths does multivariate A/B testing, which is testing 60, 70, or 80 variables to identify which UI, features, or promotional campaigns have the best reception. It's like A/B testing on steroids. A/B testing typically tests a single variable to determine the effect of a change to that variable. With multivariate testing, several variables can be tested together to uncover the best combinations.

This type of testing helps providers segment subscribers to ensure the right audience is receiving the best recommendations. "I think where the market is going is segmenting the appropriate audience from a promotional standpoint and being able to leverage data to drive more viewership, more engagement, [and] more revenue," says Purser. "The Holy Grail is to deliver a really personalized offering so all the recommendations are unique to the person or the group that's in the room."

Measurement as a Platform?

Moving from the TVE world to the other end of the spectrum brings us back to Tubular. Tubular publishes daily rankings of content on the top advertiser-supported video platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Vine, AOL, Yahoo, and Twitter. Tubular has about 120 enterprise subscribers, and it offers a free version.

"People use data for content strategy, for sales support, for media planning, for executive reporting, for identifying influencers," says Allison Stern, co-founder and VP of marketing at Tubular. "There are a lot of different ways to use that intelligence layer, but it all [goes] back to being data-driven and using data to inform your content, promotion, and distribution decisions."

Tubular's data enables companies to track their own or competitors' content and see what is trending by views and engagement metrics. "If you are Scripps and you're tracking food content, you can have a dashboard that shows you what are the trends in food, what food videos are taking off on what platforms," says Stern. "It can [answer the question], ‘How is Tasty doing?' Or, ‘How is TipHero or Tastemade or all these other food channels doing in comparison to your food channels?' You can get a feel for how engaging your content is benchmarked across the universe."

Ranking results gives publishers an idea of best practices they should follow to see, for instance, what production style drives higher engagements. "For food videos right now, there's a lot of stop motion that makes the recipe in 10 different steps where it's pictures of the food, not of the person making it. In news, there are videos that have a lot of text because in Facebook the sound is off."

Driving Revenue From Data

The takeaway from the experts varies according to the business model, but there are three keys to making data drive revenue: Understand what the high value questions are, monitor the data that gives you answers, and gather insight and identify how to respond. Everyone wants higher engagement rates with their content, whether they are ad-supported or subscription-based. Some media companies need their data to tell them when to deliver and market new content, while others look at their content's engagement levels to see exactly what resonates with the audience. In each example, the experts tested what they were doing and tracked whether their ideas resonated or were something they should revise.

While our data trail ends here, the world of Big Data is only just beginning to impact video. Content creators and publishers need to find ways to integrate it into their businesses. "People who are analyzing data and are making decisions based off of it have one skill set, but that's not the skill set of a typical video creator or producer at a major media company," says Stern. "To me, that seems like a big challenge that people are facing. It's a misalignment of skills."

Does this mean video producers now need to become more adept in analytics? Will we see data analysts more involved in production? The solution may vary from publisher to publisher, but few other types of businesses have the ability to have an intimate conversation with each and every customer and then meticulously comb through the conversation to see how to find incremental value and improve the bottom line.

[This article appears in the September 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title "Along the Data Trail."

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