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Strictly Come Datataining – More sequins in sport & the Entertainment Layer

27 September, 2011 3 comments

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

 

He looked at me quizzically.
“There are times when you come up with ideas and you’re just not sure whether they’re great – or just shit,” I said.  “And sometimes the more you say them, the more they sound like they could be a good idea – but you always wonder if they’re shit and no-one’s telling you. But with this idea, either people I don’t know are being terribly polite, or they’re quietly laughing, but some of them have definitely made encouraging noises.”

Strictly Come Data?

More data in Strictly? More sequins in Sport?

I was, of course, talking about datatainment. Hugo Sharman seems like a very nice chap. I don’t think Deltatre North‘s head would laugh in my face or behind my back – but he was looking quizzical. “Why don’t you tell me, when we get to the end of this, whether you think we should be contributing some ideas for datatainment,” he said, because I don’t think he could work out whether it was a wanky term for something that’s already being done (and that Deltatre do very nicely for lots of clients including the Uefa match day centres) or whether I meant something else.

The truth is, I don’t know. Yet. But I’m feeling confident that we are going to find something new. It’s all about the entertainment filter.
When you look at football match-day centres, or many other sports for that matter, you are confronted with a lot of data visualisation. If you’re a fan and you love your stats, then it’s entertaining. But for me, it makes me have to work too hard. That’s because I’m not a football fan. When it comes to cricket or rugby, I love the challenge of understanding the information – but it sometimes is a challenge. And there’s definitely a kudos in being the one who knows Dan Carter’s kick conversion rate – but a little like I do wish those annoying IBM ad buffers would shut up, I also get a little bored of stats knowledge being something that divides the audience – splitting it into the know-it-alls and the novices. I have to work too hard to get enjoyment out of data for football … I want it made simple, easy, enjoyable. Perhaps this is the effect of sub-optimal data vis. Maybe better design would make it naturally more engaging. But I think it’s more than that – visualisation can tell stories – but I’m not sure it can entertain in the way I mean.

Nice match centre, shame about the result

Talking to Hugo, I suggested it was the difference between watching the Young Musician of the Year and X Factor. But that’s not right – too much genre change and skill variance alongside the entertainment increase. Maybe it’s the difference between Come Dancing and Strictly Come Dancing.  No, we do not need more sequins in football. But when they re-invented the ballroom dancing programme  a few years back, the BBC did a remarkable thing – they managed to popularise the artform in a way that no-one had done since Strictly Ballroom had pastiched and parodied in the great 1992 Aussie film. You didn’t have to know a passo doble from a samba (I can’t even spell them right), and by pairing celeb novices with experts, they gave it the common touch. No wonder John Sargeant and Ann Widdecombe did so well. The judges are a mixture of amateur and expert – but even Craig whassisface, the most pernickety of the lot, explains the detail of the moves.

They opened up ballroom dancing and welcomed in newcomers who knew nothing – surely something that football (and maybe all sports) could do better – and especially something that data visualisation could do better in sport.

By the time I got to the end of my ramble/rant at Hugo, the quizzical look was gone and had been replaced by a smile. “I have to admit, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think you might be right – maybe there’s an editorial entertainment layer there that we are missing.”. So maybe we are onto something.

In a way, the editorial layer I’m talking about is something that tv punditry alongside performance graphics has been doing for a while. Sky are doing more and more of it, the BBC does plenty (and Deltatre provide that) and even the woeful ITV Rugby World Cup commentary tries to give it a whirl with their touchscreen. What I don’t want is a situation, as ITV have, where subject experts, former and current players, give poorly-enunciated opinions while pressing the odd player image on a touchscreen. I want the data, but I want the opinion, expressed entertainingly, and maybe even with some interactive element. And I want it now.

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 last.fm 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?

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

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