Investing in Media Companies. Q&A with Vincent Tang

Vincent Tang is a venture capitalist who had made a career of investing in a range of media firms from content creators to networks to agencies to MVPDs. His current company Canrock Ventures is an early stage venture capital firm that invests in media technology companies. Tang is a great proponent of Big Data measurement and research functions, focusing his efforts on identifying those companies that are offering unique and compelling ways to measure today’s media consumers cross platform. In this fascinating interview, he talks about data segmentation, new technologies in the media space, metrics and the importance of measurement in the media ecosystem. He also offers some prescient, counterintuitive thoughts on how the media landscape will progress over the next few years.

Subject                                                 Length (in minutes)
Background and Canrock                             (4:59)
New Technology                                            (5:20)
General Sentiment                                        (2:10)
Predictions and Measurement                    (4:18)

Charlene Weisler interviews Canrock's Vincent Tang who talks about his background in this 4:59 minute video:

Venture capitalist Vincent Tang talks to Charlene Weisler about how new technology is impacting the media marketplace in this 5:20 minute video:

What is General Sentiment? Vincent Tang talks to Charlene Weisler about this fascinating digital measurement company. The video is 2:10 minutes:

Vincent Tang talks to Charlene Weisler abut his predictions for the future of media in this surprising and interesting 4:18 minute video:


Carpe Datum at Gigaom

Have you heard of Gigaom? Me neither. But after attending their truly fascinating Data Structure Conference in NYC I think that a solution to true seamless cross platform media measurement may be at hand.

At Gigaom there were many innovative, ground breaking tech companies that seemed to have the capability to improve on the current measurement of media and consumer behavior through the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, data blending and data discovery tools. And many of these companies have the ability to merge on one user interface all platform, device, app, software and site data and run it all in or close to real time. Today’s tech environment facilitates storytelling and data visualization to better leverage business intelligence which is exactly what we in the media space are seeking. Needless to say I was impressed by just about everyone I spoke to. Some of the innovative companies represented at Gigaom Data Structure are in this video:

Data Blending
Let’s begin in the area of data blending. According to a recent Gigaom Research study (Sector Roadmap: Data Discovery in 2014) “Data blending is the term used to describe the performance of analytics on a collection of data sets, each emanating from a different data source.” They say that data discovery products currently on the market are now capable of real time or close to real time data blending allowing users to pull in data, quickly mash it up and analyze it. Some companies like cloudera offer the ability to serve many different types of user workloads with access to the same data set within a single interface. This interface, according to CEO Tom Reily, “can manage all types of analytics and identify trends in customer experience.”

So I am thinking, can we take television data (Nielsen, STB or other), online, mobile and tablet (name your sources) and maybe even print, retail or transactional data and place it all on one interface and data blend? I know there are some companies offering this capability now in our industry but with limited datasets and outputs that still seem to be fairly silo’ed.

Artificial Intelligence
AI still seems very futuristic to me but in fact is fairly common in applications today. Some firms, such as alchemy api are in the business to “make computers more human” according to CEO Elliott Turner and others like Watson Solutions’ Stephen Gold offer “cognition as a service.” But what does this really mean for media? I think the possibilities are endless. We may be able in finally pinpoint how a viewer fully interacts with a piece of content, including the soft measurements of sentiment and engagement. We may even be able to use AI to predict which pieces of content are most effective at driving human behavior whether for tune-in, reaction, affection or to create a call-to-action.

Machine Learning
Combined with a level of AI, machines can be programmed to learn from experience. In this way data can be mined more efficiently and with greater precision to create software applications. Tim Tuttle of Expect Labs explained, “We built mind meld to listen to conversations and find information for you. Now we want to take that technology and apply it to any data you have. Think of Siri who seems to retain knowledge with each interaction. Siri is just the tip of the iceberg in machine learning capabilities. At some point we may rely solely on the machine to map out data insights. I hope I am retired by that time.

Data Discovery Tools
CEO Qlik “When it comes to big data understanding we are in the Dark Ages.” This is exacerbated by unnatural interfaces that once had a purpose under old media but no longer apply. Farmer gave the example of the keyboard QWERTY system that was originally set up to avoid the typewriter keys from jamming. We still use this unnatural keypad interface even though our devices today do not have the problem of typewriter keys jamming up. How to we advance from old legacy systems and processes?

This and many other questions are a part of a huge data surge that impacts many businesses, including ours in media. Attending the Gigaom lets me know that we in media are not the only ones grappling with processing, measurement, analysis and data wrangling issues.


ARF Re:Think 2014 Celebrates Research

Why is this year’s ARF Re:Think different from other Re:Thinks? For one it is Gayle Fuguitt’s first conference as chief of the ARF. For another, there has never been so much great research presented, at one time in one conference.

The media landscape has seen an explosion of viewing content possibilities. And Media research, with the increasing amount of Big Data intelligence, has become the epicenter of business performance solutions. Which is why having events like Re: Think are vital to get the issues and measurement solutions out into the media ecosystem.

This year on Day 1, the focus was on cross platform measurement solutions, impact of mobile and social media datasets to understanding today's consumers and their media usage. Day 2 was on creative strategy and Day 3 was dedicated to the next generation of researchers and how to fortify career paths.

There are several important industry priorities in my opinion including cross platform measurement, integrating big data into currency measurement and preparing the next generation of researchers. I polled several top researchers at the conference and asked them what their top research priority was and the range of their answers was significant. Here are their responses:

In the area of cross platform measurement, Project Blueprint, now in phase two, is positioned to become a standardize-able way to combine the measurement of television, tablets, mobile, computers and radio into one measurement platform. Brands are “looking to get better measurement across all touch points and combinations to optimize investments” according to Amaya Garbayo of Kellogg. But the industry is still fairly silo’ed. MediaVest’s Jeff Chaban said that cross platform measurement, “is not where it needs to be but we are making significant steps.” Artie Bulgrin of ESPN, a major supporter and contributor to Project Blueprint, is experiencing success in monetizing cross platform for his networks. He said, “ESPN is an outlier in that 80% of our deals are done on cross platform.”

In the Big Data realm, there are advocates who see the vast potential of unlimited datasets containing media usage, consumption and shopping collected and combined to produce meaningful, insightful and actionable results. There has been a lot pf press about using STB data to help political campaigns win elections. Allant is partnering with Comcast Spotlight to using STB data to pinpoint voters on a hyper local level. Allant’s Eric Schmitt noted that it is “interesting how quickly political campaigns adopted the techniques (of using big data in their campaign targeting). They see success and jump on it…. Political is spurring (STB data use in) other industries.” Announcements like the TIVO / Symphony AM partnership that combines STB data with passive audio app media usage data adds to TIVO cache of data including Fourthwall, TRA and shopper data.  All of these big data sets combine to form a clearer picture of viewer to shopper ROI. But we need to do more. Lee Garfinkel of Draftfcb believes that we are “not using new world of data to its full potential. 90% of ads have been mediocre and still are.” Yet Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus DDB spoke for those who believe that we could get carried away by the sheer enormity of big data. “There is a difference between big data and a big idea. The haystack is now so enormous we can't find the needle or we find something that is not the needle.” Obviously great data interpreters and data story tellers are critical.

We may never all agree on the path to cross platform or the value of big data and how it is used in our industry but it is nice to have a forum to present findings and air all the opinions and insights. That is the value of the ARF and its research conferences.


Old Truisms in the New Media Age

One of the biggest challenges and arguably the most creatively exciting part of media today is the quest for compelling content and the devices that can be used to drive and grow audiences. A light was shed on this subject at the recent Next TV Summit.

As the media industry continues to expand, transform and in some cases challenge us there are some truisms that are beginning to emerge. Some are golden oldie industry standards that continue to guide us. Others are completely new, based on breaking technological advances.

For me, it is the old truisms that not only still drive the business but also serve to remind us that basic audience behavior, even in a world of manic technological advancements, can be predicted and trended. And yet, while some things are eternal, the Next TV Summit demonstrated that some things may need an update. Here is the recap:

It is always about the content. But now content needs to be connected.
Storytelling is as old as time. We love to be immersed in gripping and compelling content. And now we can receive our stories via a myriad of advanced devices. What these devices now offer, according to Discovery's Sean Atkins, is a much richer experience. He says "story telling is getting deep and organic" and gave the example of multi-platform eventing of the Long Island Medium. Twitter was successfully used as a way for fans to connect with spiritualist Theresa and get a reading.

It is always about quality and relevancy. But now you have to consider all platforms.
Platform standards are getting higher for content. According to Univisions David Beck, "social and digital is no longer cutting room floor content. Now it is socially curated content." Old familiar genres such as Novellas need to be “re-invented or evolve for the different platforms. You need to stretch the genre into other screens” according to Raphael Corres of TV Globe. Beck concurred, “Novellas are the original binge viewing experience five times a week. How do you reformat for multiplatform storytelling?  Four characters on existing app push notifications. Notification from that character gives a clue to what was happening in the novella. The way you interact with the story has changed.”

It is always about the audience. But now the audience is has a voice.
For good or otherwise, today’s audiences actively participate in the programming... and will let you know how they feel in real time. US Network’s Geetnajali Dhillon spoke of the responsiveness of audiences today, "They will tell you immediately what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong."

It is always about measurement. But now we need standardization.
There is still no generally accepted form of cross platform measurement and the metrics across platforms differ. How do we reconcile this and start to create standards? There is no easy answer. “We have a measurement gap,” explains Atkins, “Our biggest mistake is that we measure everything in digital while in TV we don't and advertisers pay for that waste. We need to measure engagement.”

It is always about partnerships. But now we need knowledgeable partners.
According to Sundance's Laura Michalchyshyn, “Partnerships are essential. You still need someone to help you make and pay for the content.” This is becoming more attainable as brands become interested in content creation. O&M’s Abigail Marks works with advertisers to create or co-create “content that is wonderful to share” and “can take viewers to new places.” “Brands are now curators of content” she says, “They are shifting away from renting audiences to creating audiences.”

It is always about "television". But now television means any screen that offers content.
Geetnajali Dhillon summed it up, "There is no first or second screen. There is just the screen.” So how do content providers deliver the best experience for a viewer? Comcast used to be organized around platforms but realized that it is really all video. So, as Matt Strauss explained, they developed Xfinity to merge all platforms into one. “Any device is a TV. We think television will become more of a personal media.”


ARF Re:Think Helps Researchers Rethink the Future Media Landscape

ARF’s annual Re:Think conference, scheduled for March 23-26, 2014, is a research extravaganza, if you will pardon the hyperbole. Each year, the ARF offers valuable insight into what is in the bleeding edge of media research, culling studies and insights from the best research papers in the industry.

This will be Gayle Fuguitt’s first ARF conference under her leadership and the list of topics and speakers indicate that the ARF is looking to offer immediately implementable and actionable research-based information from a range of industry experts. The conference focuses on three main areas: 1. Big Data, 2. How today’s Corporate management views Research and 3. Career Development and Mentoring.

This year’s Re:Think is notable for the number of agencies attending (+30% than last year) with 168 papers submitted around big data, cross platform measurement , social and mobile consumer engagement, and researcher of the future. The format of the conference has changed to accommodate as much new information as possible. According to Fuguitt, “Our new format will have shorter, 10-20 minute presentations focused on the business results and immediate practical applications.” An example: Artie Bulgrin of ESPN, will give a brief update on Project Blueprint, revealing “compelling new data that will validate last year's findings on multiplatform usage and the effect on incremental reach and time across day, week, month or campaign.” He will also share “unique insights about individual platform usage and fundamental principles that we see emerging and explain how ESPN plans to use Blueprint as part of our broader ESPN XP initiative for clients going forward."

I spoke to Fuguitt about this year’s conference in a series of videos:

Charlene Weisler talks to Gayle Fuguitt about the 2014 Re:Think in this 4:29 minute video:

CW: Gayle, what makes this year’s Re:Think different from past Re:Thinks?

GF: What I want to do is to take the biggest, most dynamic issues facing the industry and get them out into the public discourse as a conversation, not just a formal conference. I see an incredibly dynamic media landscape change with the consumer in control and new touch points creating all this new data -  It is the Big Data that everyone is talking about. The theme for day one is “rethink consumer engagement” in the new dynamic media landscape:  beyond big data to breakthroughs in cross platform measurement, and mobile, social engagement.  The second big dynamic is what I call “Impatient Bosses” of the C-Suite who are asking us in the Insights and Research part of the industry to sort all of this out and help understand how all the consumers are consuming media and how to create great advertising, how to allocate resources and how to make decisions in real time. The third big dynamic is looking at what we call the “Researcher’s Identity Crisis”. With all these new jobs and job titles, marketing and analytics jobs, social media strategists, there are a lot of new roles and the evolution of current roles in the research sector. Budget allocations are being shifted from what have been historically research roles to roles that fit more within the context of this new media landscape. So my goal at this conference is to help our members and the attendees at the conference to rethink consumer engagement, rethink creative, not just counting, and rethink careers.

Gayle Fuguitt talks to Charlene Weisler about the changing research roles in the industry today. The video is 4:12 minutes:

Gayle Fuguitt tells charlene Weisler what is not to be missed at this year's ARF Re:Think in this 5:47 minute video:

CW: What is not to be missed at this year’s conference?

GF: What should not be missed are the discussions of new applications of some existing techniques and the ability of leaders in research to apply new mobile connections with consumers. Consumers are on mobile and now we have some new insights into consumers and mobile media. There are also some surprising segmentation techniques that have been developed around television. While we are focusing on the dynamic media landscape as a broad landscape, television is still critically important in our industry. In a result that is both surprising and comforting, there is as much innovation going on in some of the traditional forms of advertising media for consumers as in the very new bleeding edge.

From what I see, the new ARF, under Gayle Fuguitt’s leadership, is committed to creating a relevant and valuable future for researchers. Whatever their new titles may include and in whatever department they reside, there has never been a better time to be in research. This year’s Re:Think not only will help current researchers stay relevant and knowledgeable, it may also encourage the next generation of media mavens to consider research as a viable and fascinating career path.