M+E Daily

Viacom, NYT Share How They ‘Gamify’ the Data Experience

Three experts from three very different media and entertainment companies gathered July 24 for a panel discussion on how to use data and analytics to attract and retain their customers.

The discussion — “Gamifying the Data Experience” — was held during the Smart Content Summit East event, part of the Media & Entertainment (M&E) Day at the Microsoft Conference Center in New York, and saw a similar theme emerge: look at the data to rethink pre-conceived notions about your audience.

“What’s best for our users is what’s best for our company,” said Allison McHenry, senior manager engineering of games for The New York Times. “Because we’re a subscription-based product, if we can consider ways that people find our product more engaging or more fun, keep them on the site longer, it’s a win. We’re constantly looking at data and analytics to see how to keep [consumers] engaged longer.”

As an example, she shared how The Times is experimenting with how to get people back to the site daily via games, including removing archives of puzzles, and making readers return the following day to see the answers from the previous day’s puzzles. “Our data has shown that people [return] far beyond what our initial projections showed,” McHenry said. “That strategy turned out to be effective.” She also noted that the paper digs deep into the data for those who comes regularly to play the paper’s famed crossword puzzles, and plan ahead accordingly. “We’re able to extract a lot of useful data out of that,” she said.

Jyoti Menon Varkey, VP of strategy and partnerships for Viacom’s Audience Science Group, said her company has long been using data to inform its strategies, especially to bridge the online and offline worlds, whether that involves identifying talent or finding out which shows work with events. It gives Viacom an understanding on what’s working and what isn’t, and opens up a better profile of the audience for any given brand.

“It’s also finding out how to reach them from a linear TV standpoint, using all this data I have … to give me a better profile of my audience,” she said.

One of Viacom’s priorities is a focus on live events, and along with that comes a greater understanding of Viacom’s fans. “It’s a huge strategic priority, beyond our core, traditional cable and content business,” Varkey added. “Our CEO has mandated that every flagship brand of ours — MTV, Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon — has a live experience, or an on-the-ground event to bring in more users.”

Varkey pointed to the two-day “Nickelodeon SlimeFest” event held in Chicago earlier this summer, the first time the event was held in the U.S. “Going in we knew we were facing a lot of headwinds, low awareness,” she said. Data and analytics were critical, to gauge who was buying tickets and personalizing the messages, depending on where the ticket buyers were coming from. “Data has helped us validate our strategies in some ways,” Varkey added.

Eric Wong, VP of information for Galaxy Media, which owns a number of media brands, including “The World Series of Poker,” and runs its own OTT service, said examining user data has been absolutely crucial toward retention.

“When we dig into the data to discover the engagement rates of our users and what we’ve found is if we have people coming in and watching lots of content at one time, at first we thought they might be valuable customers because they’re watching 10 hours of content all at once,” he said. “But what we found is that churn rates are higher for those who just come in once and watch a large [amount] of content.”

What his company has done is used data and analytics to personalize its communication strategy, including emails and ads, based on past watch history. That’s resulted in a 20% lift in engagement rates, Wong said.

The 2018 M&E Day also included Content Protection Summit East and Entertainment Production in the Cloud (EPIC) conference tracks, providing M&E technology teams valuable insights into the creation, production, distribution, security and analysis of content.

The event was presented by Microsoft, with sponsorship from IBM Watson Media, Amazon Web Services, IBM, LiveTiles, Microsoft Azure, NAGRA, NeuLion, Ooyala, EIDR, GrayMeta, MarkLogic, Qumulo, Avid, Cloudian, SoftServe and TiVo. The event was produced by the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA), the Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA), the Hollywood IT Society (HITS) and the Smart Content Council.