Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Emerging Areas of Digital Media Expertise, Part 2, Data Analytics and Visualization

Posted on | August 11, 2015 | No Comments

This post is the second part of a discussion on what kind of knowledge, skills, and abilities are needed for working in emerging digital media environments. Previously I pointed out that students gravitate towards certain areas of expertise according to their interests and perceived aptitudes and strengths. I discussed Design, Technical, and Strategic Communication aspects of new digital environments. Below I examine Data Analytics and Visualization starting with the importance of metrics in media and other industries.

Understanding metrics is an important aspect of global media and culture industries. Measurements of magazine and newspaper circulation, book readership, as well as television and radio audiences, have each had a distinguished history in the media field. The Nielsen ratings, for example, have been a crucial part of the television industry and its ability to attract advertisers. The introduction of digital technologies have made them even more important, and Nielsen has expanded its monitoring activities to PCs and mobile devices.

Search engines, social media platforms, and a myriad of new media applications on the web and mobile devices have increased the production of useful data and new systems of analysis have augmented their utility. Analytics is directly involved in monitoring ongoing content delivery, registering user choices, and communicating with fans and other users. They also connect incoming flows of information to key organizational concerns about financial sustainability, legal risks, and brand management involved in digital media activities. This type of information is increasingly important for management of private and public organizations.

Organizations are beginning to acknowledge the importance of social media metrics across the range of corporate and non-profit objectives, especially those that involve legal, human resources, as well as advertising and marketing activities. These new metrics can be roughly categorized into three areas. At a basic level, they are granular metrics that quantify activities like the number of retweets, check-ins, as well as likes and subscribers.

Strategically, metrics can also be useful for designing new products and services, facilitating support and promoting advocacy for an organization, fostering dialogues about products and services, and monitoring marketing/social media campaigns. Lastly, metrics are of particular concern to upper management as they can be useful to provide information on the sustainability of an organization. Those in the “C-suites” (CIOs, CFOs, COOs, and CEOs) can use the information on an organization’s financial status, technical performance, and legal risks to assist management decision-making. Metrics present connections from social media investments to key concerns such product development, service innovation, policy changes, market share, and stock market value. Recognizing the increasing utility of metrics, dashboards have grown in importance to management as a way to collect and display data in a visually comprehensive way.

The increased attention on metrics has suggested an era of “big data” analytics has emerged in the digital media sphere. The collection of unstructured information from around the web (as opposed to pre-defined, structured data from traditional databases) present unprecedented opportunities to conceptualize and capture empirical information for various parts of an organization. Techniques such as pattern and phrase matching use new types of algorithms to capture and organize information from throughout the Internet, including the rapidly growing “Internet of Things” (IoT). The result is a transformation in the way commerce, politics and news are organized and managed.

Combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NPL) for instance, cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson are disrupting industries like healthcare and finance. Watson made a spectacular debut by beating two human contestants on the TV game show Jeopardy, a challenging combination of cultural, historical and scientific questions. While Watson is struggling to catch on, AI is emerging in autonomous vehicles, voice recognition, game systems and educational technology. They could have a major impact on cultural and experience industries as well.

Project managers and media producers can use the data to see connections between content/cultural products, audience participation, customer satisfaction, and market share. Those in the “C-suites” (CIOs, CFOs, COOs, and CEOs) can use the information on financial status, technical performance, and legal risks. Besides assisting management decision-making, analytics can provide useful performance information, and improve the development of new content products, cultural expressions, and experience-based services while targeting them to individual customers. New developments like AI-assisted genre innovation and other incursions into the creative process are a justifiable means for concern, cognitive-logistical support for cultural event planners, film surveyors, and other creative content producers could be a welcome provision in the cultural/media industries.

This move to big data requires the ability to conceptualize and enact strategies for data collection, analysis, and visualization. Students should develop an appreciation for research and statistical thinking, as well as visual literacies and competencies for representing information and designing graphics that display data results in interesting and aesthetically appealing formats. The ability to identify and capture data from spreadsheets, the web and other online sources is important, as well as the ability to formulate pertinent questions and hypotheses that shape data research and models that can help explain or predict human or system behaviors.

Not everyone will be comfortable with these new types of data collection and intelligence-producing systems, but like them or not, AI and big data are encroaching rapidly on modern life.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is the Professor of Global Media at Hannam University in South Korea. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was on the faculty of New York University from 2002-2012. He also taught at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and was a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii during the 1990s.


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    Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea since 2016. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, digital economics, and strategic communications.

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