Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

Data? Entertainment? You need Datatainment

17 August, 2011 13 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.


[In which I justify the creation of a horrible new term that describes where data and entertainment meet – in this case, through football and it’s fans.]

Datatainment is a new thing. Linguistically it’s a bastard son of Data and Entertainment, with it’s irritating cousins Gamification, Informercial and Advertainment. But I think it’s more than just a stupid word dreamt up to try to kick-start a dull meeting. Could it be a new genre? How does it differ from data journalism? And what does it have to do with football?

Though the journalist in me wants to write a fully thought-out report – the blogger will throw up some thoughts and see if you’ve got anything to say.

Way back

Many years ago I did some work that pioneered online data journalism. I only realised this the other day because, at the time, we didn’t call it that. I was just working on the ‘specials’ team for BBC News Online and 3 of us were dedicated to the Kosovo Conflict special report. One of my jobs was to get the overnight press release from the allied command which detailed the locations and targets of overnight bombing raids. Then I’d make sense of the data, and go to work with Max Gadney, then one of the designers, to turn it into a map which represented the data, but also registered the nature of the target. You may remember, this was the conflict where many claims were made about laser-sighted accuracy – and some of those claims were later found to be overblown. Schools and hospitals got hit – and the data showed it over a month of intense bombing raids.

Little did I know that, many years later, data journalism would become a ‘thing’. A thing many others have studied, researched, honed and blogged about. Something that you can do a course on or can feed with a well-focussed FOI request.

Data Journalism – it’s not Entertainment. It’s not Datatainment.

In my role as Head of Digital for Manchester City FC, I was meeting with a major global hardware and entertainment brand yesterday. When asked what was my next move in innovation – my answer was clear – to make the most of the data. We will lay down a data architecture, and we will invent data products to sit on top. We will use it to entertain and engage. We will use it to involve a wider audience. We get 40,000 people in our stadium, but we get at least 4 times that on our online Match Day Centre (MDC), but the big difference is that the capacity of our stadium is limited. Of course, the capacity online is not.

I’ve whinged about the use of ‘gamification’ as much as the next man. It’s fitting that my spellcheck on this machine has just corrected that word to ‘ramification’. The inimitable Margaret Robertson (@ranarama) has written, among others, just how mis-placed the awarding of points misses the point of how games and game theory can be employed to the benefit of a project. And that’s to say nothing of the badgification (!) that we’ve seen with foursquare and, seemingly, every other venture in the last year. But at least it’s not ‘greenification’ that I heard used at the Power to the Pixel conference keynote last year.

So, what the hell and I doing creating another of these sodding hybrid words.

Datatainment. it’s better than ‘datafication’.

Let me tell you a story. At the drinks after last year’s Story conference I met the chief creative at an award-winning Brighton agency who’d done lots of work with the BBC, Channel 4 and others. I thought to myself ‘excellent, I bet there’s some great stuff he could do for me at Manchester City… I wonder if he’d like to come and have a look at what we’ve got and talk about some opportunities.’

But when I told him that I worked for a football club, the disappointment was palpable. The light in his eyes died and I could see him thinking of a way to get out of there. But I am persistent, if nothing else. I gave him some facts: We have roughly 40000 people who turn up every week to the same place. More and more they turn up for a full day out – and the MCFC experience is one that really moves things beyond turning up a five minutes to 3pm, watching the game and going straight home. Our 40,000 season card holders are passionate and engaged with our brand (forgive me football fans, but you know what I mean). They’re representative of the population in terms of smartphone penetration or computer usage. AND, the vast majority of them carry the seasoncard around with them – a seasoncard that uses an oyster-card-like RFID chip to identify them and store some basic information. Oh, and because I thought it might come in handy, these 40000 peoples’ cards now also have personalised QR codes on them and, just because I could, they have augmented reality markers on the back too. Is that enough to do something cool and interesting with? No? then I told him some more…

In the last couple of months we’ve launched a tiered system of membership to the Club – and for the first time that includes a beginner-level membership – Blue. One of the main audiences that will be most interested in what this has to offer is the overseas audience – the audience who could never get to the ground but still want to be involved. And these Blue membership cards *also* have the RFID, QR and AR elements built in. So where we say 40,000 people have cards today… by the time the ex-pat and overseas audience gets involved, we’ll be talking many more. So, suddenly you’ve got a massive, engaged, excited audience focussing on the same series of events and all with personalised, data-driven, tech-useful clever cards.

Now, if you can’t do something exciting and creative with that lot… Can you imagine the amount of data coming off those cards? location, activity, frequency… and that’s without even adding any other levels of gaming on top. but I didn’t need to labour it. By this time he got the point and could see that maybe football was worth taking a closer look at.

What’s interesting is that this kind of data is just the beginning.

In terms of football data, what we get is phenomenal.
– opta stats – public and professional level telling you everything from a player’s possession rate to his average sprinting speed. and there are also the prozone and venatrack systems available. All this match, and training, performance tracking feeds into the Performance Analysis team – and some of it also goes live into our web-based user-facing Match Day Centre.
Of course there’s also the data we generate from tracking site usage – english and arabic – and on our social and media presences, twitter, Facebook, youtube and flickr.

Then there are things like Fanvision – which has a major impact on user experience in the US market where getting stats on a game, during a game, creates a remarkable added-entertainment layer to American Football and other sports.

Statos have always been present in sport… celebrated in some, shunned in others, but always present. F1 – motorsport in general – massively data dominated. Cricket has the home of sport data – Wisden. Golf is basically a data-driven sport.

And then there’s our partnership with EA SPORTS for FIFA12. Do EA have any data we could work with, do you think? 3m people bought the console game in the UK last year, 10m worldwide. Over a 100m people have purchased it. And another 8m play the online version of the game every year. And do EA have stats to play with … data you could use as prediction engines… data you could use to entertain? It’s already gearing up to be a fun partnership.

That’s Datatainment

So I’ve gone from data journalism to data entertainment – datatainment.
Is this anything new? perhaps not.
If you define data as pieces of information – then you could argue that quiz shows have been examples of datatainment for years. But you’d be wrong.

I can’t remember who said it – and I’m probably misquoting – but there’s a difference between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. At which point it’s beholden on me to also quote the saying “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”

Data is less than the information that’s shared or tested in a quiz show. Data is the raw, unadulterated fact. Moulding those facts into stories – like @mattsheret does so well for in his role as Data Griot (data storyteller) – is data storytelling. Using facts, like the data from the bombing raids over Kosovo in 1998, and plotting them on a map to expose the detail of whether those laser guided missiles actually *were* as consistently accurate as claimed… or the homicide map of New York… or David McCandless’s work through @infobeautiful and the Guardian …  or using spreadsheets and databases to bring up anomalies in MPs expenses… or the other work showcased at Design of Understanding… these are some of the many excellent examples of data journalism. But when it’s not journalism – when it’s used to inform but, primarily, to delight or inspire or to bring someone closer to a subject they love and give them that warm glow of passion and fun… I submit that this is something else. It’s data entertainment. And that’s what I want to bring to football with @MCFC.

Are there other examples? I’m sure of it. And I’d welcome your thoughts on the nuances I’m missing or the examples that prove or disprove the case.

I may not be allowed to return to London – at least not uninjured – after @matlock @jaggeree and @ammonite promised to do me harm if I kept using the datatainment. But I’ve compounded that now so I will just have to bear with the ‘deadarmtainment’ or the ‘chineseburntainment’ that have been promised. I suffer for my art. Actually, speaking of art – the rather lovely @artfinder app for ipad is, well, art and entertainment, isn’t it? what do you think? Arttainment?


John Kearney’s comment below prompted an attempt to clarify my thinking: Defining Data Journalism, Data Visualisation and Data Entertainment.


Arab Spring – A Broadcasting Revolution (or Broadcaster Evolution?)

16 May, 2011 2 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.


“You should see my four-year-old with an ipad / mouse / iphone / tv remote / [insert relevant period technology]”.

This is one of the phrases that winds me up most when I’m at a conference, listening to someone speak about the internet with the new-found fervor of the recent convert. Don’t get me wrong, I love converts and their enthusiasm. I love tech-savvy four-year-olds  – but I don’t want to be sitting in an audience being lectured about a 10 year old behaviour pattern they’ve only just discovered. That’s stage 1: zealotry. Tonight was all about stage 2 but more of that in a minute.

The event was the Bafta hosted Arab Spring – A Broadcasting Revolution with a top quality panel of journalist experts from across the mainstream media.

It was Jon Williams of the BBC who raised my heckles. “Twitter is nothing new, it’s just like another tips line” he said, clearly feeling no need to put any qualification around that, and “social media doesn’t replace journalism, it complements it”. Of course he ended the discussion saying “we are privileged to be reporting such extraordinary moments” but only after he’d sidelined twitter as just another source. In fact, it was left to Jon Snow to be excited – to point out that the difference with twitter is that one comment can lead to another and another from multiple sources which can lead to links, data, pictures and video – and all within seconds because the scale and range of the network is so huge in comparison with anything we’ve known before. Sadly this glimmer of excitement and enthusiasm quickly faded as he realised that he was supposed to be chairing – but it seemed like he knew more about social media than anyone else on the panel.

Stage 2: Ennui.

‘It’s nothing new. We’ve seen this before. The story isn’t the technology, it’s the people. The technology is just a platform.’ These are all phrases with enough truth about them to cause plenty of damage to a media organisation. They cause damage because they breed complacency and they downgrade awareness of and investment in new technology.

At this point, I should caveat that I don’t know Mr Williams (@WilliamJon). In fact, I used to work with Sky’s Sarah Whitehead (@swhitehead1) when she was at the BBC, but other than that, I don’t know the panellists and I haven’t worked inside a news broadcaster for 10 years – so there’s a chance that last night’s panel wasn’t the best representation of what goes on within the BBC, Sky, ITN, Al Jazeerah, etc. But seeing as the second half of the evening was supposed to be dedicated to debating whether social media had been shown to revolutionise broadcasting in the case of the Arab Spring, I felt we didn’t even scratch the surface. Ironically, but not surprisingly, there was no hashtag for the debate, but thanks to @IanKearney for tweeting.

The stories on covering conflicts were impressive, harrowing, fascinating. The journalistic credentials were unparalleled. But the level of digital media debate was low. Perhaps I was in the wrong place, but it’s not just that I wanted to hear more geek talk. It gave me genuine concern that a lack of discussion might cover a lack of knowledge or interest…

Stage 2: Ennui is what happens when Media Executive A has gone through the excited digital stage. In fact, they’ve been through fear, opportunity, hope, excitement, over-excitement, disappointment… and now they’re just bored of the excitable digital-types who used to invade their newsrooms (publishing offices, media centres etc etc). Now they know all the TLAs, they’ve been on all the digital media courses, they know the difference between a follow and a retweet – and to the bosses on high (who know they don’t know anything) they sound digital. Or digital enough.

Other options

The panel was made up of hugely experienced and esteemed journalists with long and decorated careers in journalism and broadcasting. Sadly, there were no other voices involved – none that could have talked through the importance of social media. Oh for a Clay Shirky or Jay Rosen or Jeff Jarvis or Emily Bell or Aleks Krotowski or Kevin Anderson or any of a long list of others. Steve Herrmann (@BBCSteveH), the BBC’s News Online Editor would have had an interesting perspective, perhaps.

There was no discussion of ‘twitter to break the news, facebook to organise, youtube to share’. There was no mention of journalists being held to account by online communities who know the subject matter better – and by the impact of that on working processes – how being part of an ecosystem or a conversation has revolutionised reporting at the Guardian and other media institutions. Yes, I could have spoken up – but questions from the floor by digital media practitioners always end up sounding like rants – and that never helps the cause. The debate itself needed to be more balanced – or at least more focussed on the practice of using social media in newsgathering. Yes, there were interviewees in the VT piece about social media who knew what they were about, like Alex Gubbay (@alexgubbay) (formerly,  BBC News social media chief, now moving to Johnston Press), but these weren’t the voices on tonight’s panel.

There was some good conversation stimulated by @stewartpurvis around impartiality. But there was scant discussion of anonymity and the essential and interesting place it holds within internet-based discussion. And there appeared limited awareness of the fundamental scale of social media and the power of the scale of the network.

Second source? How about hundreds?

There was mention of getting a second source – but this wasn’t extended into the idea to get multiple sources – that scale means mass-corroboration as well as mass-collaboration. I’ve always found an important premise is to understand a user’s provenance online – their history and profile within the community and conversation ecosystem where they reside.

[alert: incoming personal anecdote confirming experience of conflict reporting and internet heritage]

When I worked on the Kosovo Special Report on BBC News Online in 1998, there were 3 of us in the team. I handled what we’d now call the data journalism of updating the daily record of allied bombings. But if social media had been around I could have corroborated those stories – I could have shown pictures of schools bombed-out when Nato said it was an armoury. However, this also highlights the issue of scale again: with twitter, facebook and youtube – and the need for broadcasters’ representatives to reside in the online community so that you can know the reputation and reliability of a source, or to use mass-corroboration as your principle – you need resource, huge resource, to be able to effectively operate as a broadcast journalist body. It’s a manpower challenge.

What worried me most about Mr Williams comments – and the rest of the panel – was that there seemed to be no sense of being in a media revolution. As Clay Shirky says (and I paraphrase)

“In a revolution, no-one knows how it’s going to play out – not even the revolutionaries”

But if you think twitter is just like another tips line – then you might not have your eyes on the horizon. You might not realise that we don’t know what the next massive step will be in the digital impact on how we report news, cover elections, reflect revolutions. And if you’re not constantly adapting and working on changing your organisation to the next technological thing that comes out, then you risk missing the nuances of revolution because all you can do is react to the barrage of voices that hits you when massive news stories break.

Why does any of this really matter? The panel all agreed that our journalistic purpose is to uncover truth  – to go, to see, to tell what we see – but my worry is this: if you’re not alert to the nuances of technology; if you think that we’ve been through the digital revolution and we’ve got it covered; if you think that all your journalists are more than capable and digital-enough then the risk is that the authorities, like those in Bahrain, will learn to use the internet and social media in better and more effective ways – and truth will just become increasingly difficult to find. Complacency about the need to be alert, to invest and to adapt our media organisations to the ever-moving point in the revolution of digital media felt heavy in the air tonight. I hope that digital revolution in these companies is still going on and that we haven’t slowed it down into a complacent, bored, regressive stage in broadcaster evolution.

It would be a mistake to judge an entire organisation by the one person who was picked (or available) to speak on a panel. I’m sure there are some excellent digital people in those companies and I would ask Bafta, next time, to get them in on the debate.

Tonight’s panel was chaired by Jon Snow ( @jonsnowC4) with

James Brabazon, Freelance Journalist & Trustee, The Rory Peck Trust – @james_brabazon

Ghazi Gheblawi, Libyan Author and Blogger – @Gheblawi

Bill Neely, International Editor ITV News – @billneelyitv

Jacky Rowland, Senior Correspondent Al Jazeera English – @jackyaljaz

Sarah Whitehead, Head of International News, Sky News – @swhitehead1

Jon Williams, BBC World News Editor – @WilliamsJon


Much Ado About The Girl

18 March, 2009 1 comment

Chilling with the howlers

24 November, 2008 2 comments

Been chilling out at El Panchan near the ruins site at Palenque for a couple of days. Meeting a few people, chatting, hearing some interesting, and some phenomenally dull stories… oh, and having a debate about the biassed nature of the Blair Broadcasting Corporation. joy. why is it people are always more willing to believe in conspiracy and always want there to be a black and white. whereas shades of grey prevail…

Plus, of course, watching groups of younger travellers flirt and get over excited with each other over a Corona, or have in-depth debates about whether to take the colectivo bus or, like, the premier bus because it’s, like, three hours quicker  but costs two dollars more…

tomorrow at 6am get on a bus to go see Bonampak and Yaxchilan on the Guatemalan border. Then spend weds in the jungle with a Lancandon guide (indigenous indian community that has always lived in this particular jungle) – and then do the border crossing and get on a bus to Flores in northern Guatemala. Mildly concerned about the security issues here, and the chances of getting ripped off during the immigration process… but one takes ones chances. Surely a cheeky chappy smile or a rakish grin will get me by, right?

Brand Ross

1 November, 2008 Leave a comment

Gobsmacked by the PM commenting. Disappointed by slow management reaction. Not surprised by the Mail on Sunday. Saddened for Leslie Douglas. Best coverage on the Media Guardian.

Just listen to it:

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