LONDON: TV companies are collecting vast amounts of data about audiences and users thanks to subscription and registration services, but are largely failing to put this information to practical use, a white paper has claimed.

In Big Questions, Big Answers: Will harnessing smart data for audience analytics save the broadcast industry?, market research firm GfK explored the benefits of big data for broadcast and outlined the future it has for the TV industry, based on interviews with key decision makers and executives from 14 media groups from around the world.

The study highlighted three broad findings, the first of which was the changing nature of the data now required. TV operators are moving away from asset-based data – such as the number of subscribers or the number of plays in a given time period – and towards behavioural data collected from panels or in real-time from viewers.

Behavioural data was also identified as being key to unlocking new insights by placing viewer habits in context. The third thing stressed by GfK was that all the data collected could only become valuable "through intelligent transformation and interpretation" in order to enable a better understanding of the audience and emerging trends.

"The potential offered by big data is immense," said Niko Waesche, global lead of the media and entertainment industry at GfK. "Currently, everybody is engaged in data experimentation and there is a lot to fight for."

UK broadcaster Channel 4, for example, has been using big data to enhance its ad sales, and anticipates that within two years half of its VoD advertising inventory will be sold on the basis of demographically targeted information, up from the current figure of 15%.

At Viacom data is being used to inform commissioning decisions and which talent to put resources behind. "If it's a website view, a TV rating, or SVoD stream, we can clearly see which pieces of content are resonating," explained Philip O'Ferrall, svp at Viacom International Media Networks.

The power of big data is immense, GfK concluded, "and it's clear that broadcasters and platform operators are only beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible".

Data sourced from GfK; additional content by Warc staff