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Breaking Down the Media Silos: Connecting a Mixed-Media World

In the connected world, the value comes from signals created by the creators. And the usefulness comes from the aggregators that bring those signals together in a contextually aware 'product'.

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Written by on May 9, 2012

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Thomas Baekdal

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In The Shift, I wrote about how the new media world is breaking down the traditional media silos. Not just for the media themselves but also by brands, organizations, and for the public as a whole.

In the past, brands would either buy advertising or send out press releases but today, in the connected and social world, brands find they now have to be their own journalists. They have to be the creators of content. They have to write the reviews, tell the stories, and present the data.

Note: Read also, 'Advertising Agencies in 2015'.

One very good example is just to look at the Volvo Ocean Race. Their site and app, are doing exactly what the newspaper used to do for them. But in the direct world, you cannot put your communication in the hands of others.

But even amazing sites like the Volvo Ocean Race are falling short of embracing the connected world. Because the other lesson is that no single destination can cover all the signals available.

In this Plus report we are going to sketch out the perfect scenario for covering big sport events - like the Volvo Ocean Race, the Olympics, Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, Le Mans etc.

The point, of course, is not sport itself, but to visualize what the connected world is all about. How it breaks down the old media silos. And how the same principles apply to all other forms of media, from the news media covering politics to brands taking part in big events.

24 Hours of Le Mans 2006

I've always been a big fan of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Like everyone else, I used to just see it on TV and read about it in the newspaper. In the early years, that meant that I could only see the summary because none of the TV stations covered the full race. And the newspaper coverage, well, that all came out after the race was over.

As a fan, this was hugely disappointing.

So in 2006, I decided to create a Le Mans tracker. It was a very simple page containing live timings, news and race events, as well as the official timer which would display things like caution periods etc. It was nothing fancy but still, It allowed me to at least follow the full race.

In 2007, I wanted to do more. So I sketched the following concept. It had all the same data, plus much more news, live TV, web camera feeds, team and driver info, as well as tracking for individual drivers (based on your personal preferences).

Unfortunately, I couldn't make this happen. There was no way for me to get the data in a meaningful way. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is based on a traditional media licensing concept. So even though I wanted to pay for this, I couldn't. The whole licensing deal was limited to exclusive multi-million dollar, country specific contracts - only available to pre-selected media companies.

I could also register as a journalist, and pay a ton of money that would allow me to move around at Le Mans and take pictures. But I wasn't at Le Mans. I was sitting at home, creating a tracker that people could connect with globally.

As a result, I had to drop it. There was just no way that I could do this.

Instead I shifted my focus to creating a social tracker. While it would have less official news and data, it would bring in news for all the people around it. It would bring in content from various news sources like independent bloggers, as wells as tweets and content from the teams, the drivers, the organizations and the sponsors.

In 2009, the first year of the social tracker, I experienced a race like no other. My tracker was faster than live TV. Yes, you read that right. Faster than LIVE.

The reasons were two things. First, the TV picture was actually 10-15 seconds delayed (caused by editing and broadcast delays), allowing me to see a tweet about a crash before the car crashed on TV. That was surreal.

Lmp2 lola #39 went off the track

The second reason was that it takes a lot of time for TV presenters to figure out what's going on. But the teams would tweet it as it happened. On TV we would see a race car limping around the track, and the TV presenter would speculate as to why. While I could see in my social tracker that it was because of a broken gearbox, which the team tweeted about two minutes earlier.

Or here is another example. OakRacing tweeted this 7 minutes before the car headed into the pit. The TV presenters had no clue until the team started changing the tires.

Rain stronger than expected. New change of tyres on #35

And then there was all the information that you simply wouldn't get from TV. Like the reactions tweeted by one of the drivers, or some behind the scenes picture taken by a mechanic. Here is a tweet from an Audi driver from the 2011 Le Mans.

@DindoCapelloFC: crap move by gene! 4laps down!!!!

The richness and relevance of information was about a billion times better than anything you would get from traditional media. The connected world provided me with a much better view of what was going on.

In 2010, my tracker became so popular that several of the teams were using it in the pits. They all realized that to cover the event, they had to know all the things that weren't available through official channels. And the social tracker in combination with the connected world, made it possible.

The Connected Tracker

My Le Mans tracker is nothing special. It's a simple tool that brings together 108 different sources. But it illustrates three main trends brought to us by the connected world:

  1. The value is shifting from the reporters to the creators.
  2. It's direct by default.
  3. It cannot be put into a media silo or limited to a media channel.

It also illustrated the futility of blocking social media during big events, like when the IOC, posted this policy for use of social media during the Olympics:

"The IOC encourages participants and other accredited persons to post comments on social media platforms or websites and tweet during the Olympic Games ...However, any such postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist - i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities..."

Basically saying; Athletes are free to tweet what they had for breakfast, but they cannot tweet their reaction to anything useful.

The reason, of course, is that they believe the 'role of a journalist' should be limited to the media companies who have paid millions for exclusive licensing deals.

The PGA Tour went even further. In November they created a policy forbidding not just the golfers from tweeting, but also the spectators. Now you are not even allowed to hear what your friends like about it, only the TV presenters are allowed to say anything about the event.

The solution has become the problem. In the traditional world, the TV presenters were our only life line to what was going on. If they didn't know, neither would you and I.

But today, in 2012, the connected world is now the new normal. It allows people to connect directly with anyone and everything, effectively causing the media to assume a new reduced role of being 'just another source'. The media world doesn't like this and, with the help of the sport organizers, they invoke social media rules that block non-media reporting.

You don't have to be very bright to realize that this behavior doesn't work. Why would people accept only getting information from journalists and reporters? It makes no sense. A race car driver who only communicates through a reporter is not that relevant.

It's a business model based on the principle that the middlemen are more important than the creators. And in case of a conflict, the creators must shut up and instead accept that the middlemen are the only ones who can speak for them.

What's happening is that the media must learn to assume their new role as equals, instead of being the masters. What the media provide, while sometimes valuable, is just one of the many channels. A channel that is equal in importance to the other direct channels controlled by the teams, team members, sponsors, and the audience itself.

The next few years will be a mess, as the old media world and their old business models will continue their struggle for control. But it is only a matter of time before they have to accept defeat and embrace the connected world, instead of trying to block it.

The future of excellent sports coverage

In the future, the perfect sport coverage is based on a combination of two things. First, it is the creation of signals on many different levels. Secondly, it is about creating a meaningful platform for which to process and visualize these signals.

The signals themselves range from a very narrow perspective, to large and wide-ranging overviews that give people the big picture. This is an area in which both brands, teams, organizations, and the media have a very important role to play.

The platform however, has to be multi-signal by default. A platform cannot be media centric, e.g. only containing signals from Eurosport - that is not going to work. You cannot provide relevant coverage in the connected world if you limit your signals to only those you control.

Signals

What are these signals?

Well, the first thing we have to realize is that people don't follow events. Take the PGA Tour. People don't follow the tour as a whole, instead each person has a favorite golfer, or a group of golfers that they favor over any of the other players.

It's the same with Football, where we follow specific teams and specific persons. Same with Ice Hockey, Tennis, or Le Mans. We don't follow 52 cars driving around a track. We follow a few specific teams, and a few specific drivers, and hope that they win.

This means that our main signals are:

1: Team-members

The very first signals are from the team members themselves - the drivers, the golfers, the players etc. Engaging directly with your fans is as important in the future, as communicating with the press was in the past. Instead of spending five minutes being interviewed by a reporter, you spend it tweeting what's happening - how you feel, your plans, your ideas - directly to you fans.

2: Crew and team managers

The second signal is the direct communication coming from the crew. What are they doing, how do they feel, what do they see? Again, this is just as important as talking with a reporter - and in some cases even more important.

What does the team manager feel? What are your reactions, your vision, your plans?

All of this is the ultra-specific narrow reporting that fans really love. This is the kind of thing that makes the connected world far more relevant and engaging than traditional media.

3: The journalists

We also need journalists, but we don't need reporters. Take Le Mans. In the past, something would happen and we would see it on TV. The TV presenter will telluis what happened, and the teams and drivers would tweet about it. But then, they TV station sends down a reporter to interview the crew asking 'what happened' ...and in almost every case, we already know.

That is not useful. You are not only wasting the audience's time, you are also paying a reporter to walk around asking stupid questions.

What we need are real journalists. People who do actual journalistic work. The journalists need to look at everything that is happening and identify the missing pieces. Then they need to act on this, and do some investigative journalism, in real time, providing the audience with a deeper understanding.

And not necessarily in the form of a long article (the usual form of investigative reporting). A tweet will do, or short post, a video clip, an interview, etc ...if that is all it takes.

The role of a journalist is no longer to be the bringer of news. We have that covered. The journalist's role is to be the creator of the type of news that completes the puzzle.

4: The team

Moving up the scale, we have the teams. They have to engage their fans just like the drivers and the crews. But the team takes on a wider perspective. They provide us with upcoming things of note, as well as back stories, and a behind the scenes look.

You're connected with the drivers and the crew. But you feel 'part' of the team. The purpose of the team is to make people feel part of the experience.

5: The Journalists (again)

Moving another step closer to the big picture, and the journalists have another important role to play. They provide the cross-driver and cross-team perspective. If one team is doing something, what kind of influence does that have on the other teams? How does each team compare, what are the overall trends? Where are we heading?

The team and drivers can only do this from their own perspective (which is equally interesting), but we need 'outsiders' to connect the dots.

6: Organization

Another step up is the information from the organization as a whole. ACO in the case of Le Mans, IOC for the Olympics. The kind of information that they bring is usually not that interesting. It is too wide and too mass-marketed. Except for the few cases where it involves a dispute between teams.

7: Spectators - crowdsourcing

We also need to look at what the audience sees, feels, and does. What is the life around the event?

This one is tricky, because people don't tweet to communicate. They react and have fun. For instance, last year for my Le Mans Tracker, I decided to also include spectator tweets, but I quickly had to remove them again. The problem was that 99.9% of all the tweets were useless. Either because people were repeating something we already knew, people doing something that wasn't relevant, or later that evening, drunk people tweeting things you don't want to see.

The remaining 0.01% was excellent, but when you have several million people watching a single event, the far majority of tweets are not that interesting.

We need to find a way to identify that 0.01% that means something. The people who see something important. Like the spectator tweeting about an event outside the view of the cameras.

8: Back story, history, perspective, profiles

Finally, we have all the things that aren't directly related to what's going on at that very moment but instead, cover the really big picture of how the event relates to last year's event, for example.

And this is done by all creators. For instance, Audi is coming with Truth in 24 II, which is a sequel to the very popular 'Truth in 24' from 2010. It's a one and a half hour documentary about the 24 hours of Le Mans, from Audi's perspective.

Or what about this 15 minute recap from the 2011 Le Mans, again produced by Audi, for Audi fans:

This is better TV than you get from traditional media companies.

But it doesn't have to be as massive as this. The point is that the drivers, crew, teams, organization, and the media companies all need to figure out how to tell the bigger story. This is the connected world, everyone can be a journalist - and everyone must be a journalist.

All of the above are 'human' signals. But already we see how the information available exceeds the capability of a single source. Neither the drivers, teams, journalists, nor the organization can cover all of this alone.

What makes this magic is that each element is doing what it does best, directly with the audience. If all of this had to go through a media company, it would be edited to fit a mass-market focus. As a fan you wouldn't get the small details that make this whole thing come alive.

Nor can the teams or drivers just do it themselves, because we need that bigger picture, and we need to find the missing pieces that create a deeper understanding.

That is the key of the 'connected world'. It's a multitude of signals connected with each other to create an amazing experience for the audience.

The data signals

The human signals are only half the equation. The other half is the raw data. In the connected world, just as we don't need journalists to tell us what the team are doing, neither do we need media companies to tell us the data.

And again, just with the human signals, it ranges from narrow signals to the ones providing the big picture.

The narrow signals are all the data points coming from each individual contestant. In the case of Le Mans, the data is about the cars, how they perform, who is driving them, their speed, breaking points, g-force, lap times, best laps, where they are at that moment etc.

The big picture stuff is data that compares cars, correlates actions, analyzes trends etc.

Then we have another very important data point, the connection between the human signals and the automatic data signals. For instance, if someone sets the fastest laps, what human signals relate to that? How do people react to that information?

For instance, when McNish crashed, there was a wealth of human signals conveying emotion that is interesting for the audience to be part of (and possibly contribute to). So a very important data signal is to identify how something relates to each other, so you can put them together in a meaningful way.

Finally we have the many media signals. The TV feeds from the cars, the pits, and the track itself - as well as from cameras portraying life around the track, and the independent cameras managed by journalists out hunting for the missing pieces.

We have the photos taken by the photographers. People used to take a bunch of pictures, and then later upload them to be sold to media companies from the press center. They too need to 'connect' and be a part of the live experience.

And we have all the pictures and video taken by fans and spectators, all posted to social channels and YouTube.

It is an immense amount of data.

The tracker

Now comes the fun part. We need to find a way to make all this work in a usable way for the fans. In the past, traditional media would edit it, and create one TV show that everyone could watch. It's the same with newspapers, they would pick and choose what to write about.

The problem with this, however, is that it is a one-too-many approach, defined by the limitation of the past. In 1980, there was no way to create a TV show for the individual, you instead created a generalized mix that would hopefully appeal to everyone. But the result is that while French TV, for example, is doing an incredible job every year, you will spend 90% of the time watching things you are not that interested in. The mass market approach lowers the overall quality for the individual.

What we need instead is an aggregator that can bring together all these signals, tailored to you as an individual. One that isn't 'edited', but is instead 'targeted' to you want as an individual fan.

The aggregator has three roles:

  1. It must bring together signals from every source, not just the official ones, or the ones controlled by a specific media company.
  2. It must weight signals and rank them based on social activity, what context they are in, and many other factors. They need to identify the best content and the most relevant content.
  3. It must present these signals in amazing ways, focused around each individual fan.

Yesterday, I created this quick 'sketch' for the perfect '24 Hours of Le Mans Tracker', just to illustrate how that could work from a conceptual point of view.

It's about you, not a mass market

If we start at the very top, we see perhaps the most important element of all: Your feeds. It ties into what I said about people not following events as a whole. We follow specific teams, drivers or topics. To create the best tracker, you need to tailor the experience to the personal preference of each individual fan.

In this example, the person is a fan of Audi, Aston Martin, a number of specific drivers, and a few specific feeds like the one from Radio Le Mans (who does a far better job at commentating on the race than anything else out there).

In this case we are just looking at McNish, but you can add any feed you want, and choose to look at any feed at any time - including looking at multiple feeds at the same time. The rest of the page would react to your preferences and give you a mix of content tailored and ranked according to what you care about as a fan.

Smart TV

The next step is the TV box. It displays the channels available to you based on your feed selection(s). We have the live feed, the in-car feed, the pit feed, the official feed from Audi (remember this is not limited to just one media company), and other goodies.

Each one of these reacts to what I have selected at any given moment. For instance, if you follow the #3 Audi from the in-car TV feed using Radio Le Mans as the Audio feed, the screen adapts and now shows you car telemetry instead.

But I want to talk about the live feed. This is not traditional TV, or even the traditional web. This is 'connected', meaning that when you decide to follow Audi, the live feed doesn't limit you to just pictures of Audi.

What you see is this: That's a Peugeot!

Why do you see a Peugeot when you have decided to follow Audi? Well, because your feed is not a filter, it is a contextual target. The live TV feed will change its focus to show you everything you need to know about Le Mans, from the perspective of an Audi fan.

And because Peugeot is the main competitor, it's just as important that you see what they are doing. Just as the LIVE feed will show you other important events from the track and Le Mans as a whole. If there is a crash involving a GT2 Porsche, you still need to know.

But unlike traditional TV where the editors try to give a general mass market LIVE stream, this live feed is focused at the race from the perspective of what you have selected.

Note: Again, the screen adapts to what you see. Instead of in-car telemetry, it now shows the gap between the Audis and the Peugeots.

It's the same if you are a fan of Corvette, then the live feed would focus on what Corvette is doing, their immediate competitors, as well as important events in or around the track. But you spend much less time watching the Peugeots, and much more time watching the Corvettes.

This is smart TV.

For this to work, the TV producer has to produce in a dramatically different way. Instead of editing a show, they provide raw data that has been tagged to reflect what we see and what it is about. The actual editing is then done by the aggregator that compares these videos tags with each person's personal feeds, and creates - in real-time - a LIVE TV feed.

Much of this can be done automatically. For instance, in Nascar we see how the camera knows what car it is looking at.

It's video as data, not an edited mass market broadcast.

Finally, what if something happens on the track and you want to know who that is? Again, this is smart TV so all you do is to move your mouse over the car, and an annotation will display the car number, team, and driver.

And, you can decide to follow this car and add it to your feeds - thus making it part of your live experience from that point on.

We are turning passive sports TV into an active platform, where you see what's important for you.

And, of course, this is not limited to a page. If you watch this page on your iPad, you can use AirPlay to stream the TV feed to your living room TV, effectively turning your iPad or laptop into a TV companion. You decide when and where to watch it, and you decide what device to use. It's not platform or device dependent.

Photos and videos

It's the same with the photos and the video section. It will display all the photos and videos in a contextual-aware fashion, depending on what you have decided to see at any given moment.

In this case, we are following the Audi cars, so we are seeing pictures related to that.

And because every feed is just a huge number of tagged clips, every moment can be replayed. If you missed an event, you can just go back and watch it.

Race Events and Stream

It works the same with Race Events and the Stream. Race Events being anything important that happens on the track, and the Stream being all the social signals of what people are tweeting and communicating through various channels.

Again, what you see is contextually aware depending upon what you have decided to follow. If you are following Audi, Race Events will prioritize their events, and include secondary events about Audi. But it will also include all the other important information from the race as a whole. It's not filtered. It's targeted.

And it is the same with the social stream.

But, this is 'connected' media. So when you see something that you want to know more about, you just click on it. And the aggregator will highlight that event, the TV and videos associated with it, the pictures showcasing it, the related race events, and the all social posts reacting to it.

For instance, if you missed McNish's crash, you can scroll down and click on that event - and you get a page like the one blow. Every box is now focusing on just this one event, and providing you with contextually aware content related to it.

Chronos, Race course, etc

Finally we have the data box itself, with the Chronos displaying live race time. We have a map of the race course, with the cars displayed on it (and 'yours' highlighted). And, as a data intelligence tool, you can compare the car, team, and drivers in the compare box.

The Connected Media World

This concept is just a simple example, but it illustrates the amazing connected world that lies ahead of us. It requires a profound change in how things are done.

Brands, in this case the teams and drivers, have to communicate directly, because without them, this context-aware tracker would be meaningless. Your fans will not enjoy the experience if the brands only pushed out official press releases. We need that stream of information and pictures coming directly from the people who create the action - and we need the data to flow so that we can connect it to the many other signals.

Media companies have to understand that the future of media is not to be the bringer of news, but to connect the dots and find the missing pieces.

Every year, TV stations from all over the world send reporters to Le Mans. It's the wrong thing to do. We don't need reporters. We need journalists. People who create, rather than repeat.

Who should create a tracker like this? Who should be behind this aggregator? Well, the media would love to do it, but they have to understand that the reason it works is because it extends beyond their own control.

The people who can do this best are the organizations themselves. Just like Volvo Ocean Race is doing an amazing job covering what they do.

In the connected world, the value comes from signals created by the creators. And the usefulness comes from the aggregators that bring those signals together in a contextually aware 'product'.

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Thomas Baekdal

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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