Squawka: Data and the modern media business

It was early as 2007 when studies showed that TV dramas such as CSI and Waking The Dead may have impacted the number of students applying for degrees in forensic science. The success of these admittedly pop-culture TV shows and the impact they had on British university submissions are fascinating (even if purely from the standpoint of UCAS). 

Fast-forward to 2014 and homegrown shows such as Sherlock dominate the primetime with the third series averaging around 12 million viewers per episode. The compelling re-imagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective series is not only one of my favourite shows but also regularly reminds me of a choice quote from Sherlock himself;

“Data, data, data…I cannot make bricks without clay” (from the story, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches). 

Stories pointing towards the ubiquity (and subsequent importance) of data in modern business are, with good reason, flooding the market. Clearly some companies in the UK would benefit greatly from the correct data strategy but understanding the key metrics to be analysed is arguably the most crucial point for all businesses. 

This is never truer than in the modern media business. Over the past few years all top media outlets have hired data scientists and analysts into (or very close to) their editorial teams to help understand the audience, content and traffic with a view to driving up performance.

A great example can be seen at one of the fastest growing digital businesses in the world – BuzzFeed, who experienced quintuple monthly growth since appointing Dao Nguyen as its Head of Growth. 

It’s the same here at Squawka. Our editorial team analyses every article written, every headline, every tweet and Facebook post. We analyse where in the world the fans are coming from and what time of day. We analyse how long they spend consuming the content and what they consumed next. All with a view to creating better, more engaging content next time. And then the cycle starts again. 

The interesting thing for us is that we don’t just use data on the back-end to drive our business forward but also exhibit data on the front-end in order to help football fans understand more about the game. Squawka visualises over 500m data points in a 90 minute football match and the resulting graphics are used to drive content over our web, mobile and social channels. You could say that in a sense we are a fully loaded data business. 

Football is by far the world’s largest sport with even just the English Premier League attracting global audiences of over 4 billion people. You could however argue that the long history and breadth of the game has stifled innovation for fans with incumbent media businesses playing it ‘safe’ with the content they produce. For some in the broadcast game the point is mitigated in that airtime is precious and only topline analysis can be spoken of.

Digital, however, should have no such limitation and it’s obvious that the idea of ‘data as content’ took a while to take hold in football. This is in stark contrast to American sports in which data and stats are in the DNA of fan culture. 

Squawka has now been used over 80 million different times in 2014 by football fans wanting to know more about the game. Some fans consume a quick transfer story backed up by stats. Some go in-depth into our dynamic real-time match centers to judge performance for themselves. Some come because they want to compare Messi Vs Ronaldo goals from outside the box in away games… 

The question we are continually asking ourselves is, ‘In three years time are football fans going to want more data or less?’ The answer is obvious given the growth we have seen since launching and, by using rigorous back-end data techniques we can ensure the content we produce for fans on the front end is always what they are looking for. 

As we enter our next fund-raising round we are encouraged by the growth and backing other digitally native media companies have seen this year. Vice Media (raised $500m at $2.5b valuation), Vox Media (raised $46.5m at $380m valuation) and Buzz Feed (raised $50m at $850m valuation) are now the new kings of content and traditional publishers are playing catch up.

The time has never been better to be a digital media business with a data-led strategy. 

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