Later this month, the I-COM Summits take place in Rome. I-COM (or International Conference on Online Media Measurement to give it its full title) is one the world’s biggest gatherings of online data types, and takes place every two years. Warc is a media partner, and we’ll be bringing all the key insights and arguments together in a series of reports (keep an eye on the Event Reports page).

I attended the last I-COM in Lisbon in 2010. It was an eye-opening experience – at a time when it was de rigueur to say that digital was the most measurable medium, it came as a surprise (to me at least) just how much debate there was over the validity of a lot of online data, and which metrics were actually meaningful.

So ahead of this year’s conference, I talked to Andreas Cohen, the event’s chairman, and asked him what the key topics of discussion would be this time round. The five issues he identified, which we hope to revisit after the event, are as follows:

1. Big data

‘Big data’ is the overarching theme of this year’s conference, and it’s timely. It’s been a much-used term in the past year. So it seems a good time to ask what actually means and how it relates to brand communications and digital marketing.

At one level it’s about “connecting datasets”, says Cohen, and using that data to get a competitive advantage. There is now the potential, if companies build the right infrastructure around the data, to process it and use it predictively.

It is only in the last couple of years that this challenge is being seen as a strategic issue for businesses. Bank of Wachovia, for example, has a board-level ‘data czar’. This, says Cohen, is “a precursor of something that will become quite prevalent.”

2. Social data

Two years ago there was plenty of discussion about the different types of data coming out of social platforms. Now, and particularly in the light of the Facebook IPO, there is more interest than ever in the “relation of social to business impacts”, and what the planning currency for social should be.

The industry, says Cohen, is a “bit further down the road” on this issue than it was two years ago.

3. Multiscreen measurement

Multiscreen viewing has become a big issue, and how the media industry measures that viewing is a key challenge. The conference will feature updates from Google and ESPN on some of their research.

The issue of digital GRPs (gross ratings points) is likely to be raised again. This is an old debate - basically, do channels like online video need a GRP-style planning currency, and if so how do you define it? There are strongly held opinions on either side.

4. The global aspect

One of the interesting aspects of I-COM is that it features input from all over the world. That international aspect has never been more important. Media owners such as Facebook and Google are now truly global. At the same time, in emerging markets, you have campaigns planned out of regional hubs such as Singapore or Dubai.

The result is that there is more pressure to find standardised global answers to measurement questions.

In the past, says Cohen, national trade bodies decided on the planning currencies for their markets. Now, there is a need for more uniform international standards, and to co-ordinate measures of advertising expenditure across markets. “There is now a lot of nuance, complexity and layers in this area.”

5. Man versus machine

Finally, it’s worth looking out for more debate on the future of media planning, and in particular the way ‘big data’ is changing the way audiences are identified and served with advertising.

Advertising exchanges and platforms for ‘real-time bidding’ are already changing the way media space is bought and sold. How automated can it get?

Watch this space…