Big Data Summit: “Data Is a Tidal Wave” Overwhelming Experts

On the first day of Variety’s Big Data Summit, the main takeaway was that data — from online, set-top boxes, smartphones and even retail sales — has become a tidal wave that threatens to overwhelm even data experts. The industry needs data scientists capable of searching through the mass of data to find nuggets of insight and actionable data, making them highly sought-after, or, as AOL Publisher Platforms global head Tim Mahlman said, “rock stars.” “You can get lost (in data) if you’re not smart about it,” he said.

Variety identified the main trends that arose in the Summit’s first day. Many panelists spoke about the necessity to use data less as a predictive tool and more for informed decision-making. “Twitter is the world’s largest focus group,” said that company’s data strategy executive Chris Moody. “There’s a much bigger opportunity in moving data to the leading edge (of product development) rather than measuring after the fact.”

streamingDisney executive Wayne Peacock reported that “data-mining in preparation for the December 18 premiere of the latest ‘Star Wars’ pic is a full-time job for many people” at the studio. “There’s no angle of that film we can’t look at from a social perspective,” he said.

Some speakers equated big data with magic: Viacom chief executive Philippe Dauman described the “magic” of “stitching together audience information from multiple sources”; Twitter’s Moody described the “magical point” of having enough computing power to analyze masses of data; and PMK-BNC chief executive Chris Robichaud referenced the “magical moment” when clients understand how they can use data to advance their careers.

But it’s not just magic. Twitch executive Colin Carrier described a new trend he calls “data paranoia,” when executives fear they’re missing an important bit that will transform their business.

“Missing the forest for the trees” is another trend. GroupM chairman Irwin Gotlieb notes that, “Wall Street is way too short-term in its perspective. At the end of this tunnel is a very, very bright light.”

Another downside is fraud in digital advertising, agreed both buyers and sellers; Sony Pictures Television executive Amy Carney noted there is “$6 billion worth of click fraud going on right now.”