Personalised data ‘has turned publishers into retailers’

Personalised data ‘has turned publishers into retailers’News Corp Australia chief technology officer Tom Quinn says publishers need to start thinking and behaving more like retailers by harnessing the power of data. Photo: Eliza Goetze

Publishers have become retailers rather than manufacturers as news becomes more personalised, with data a more important resource than ever, according to News Corp Australia chief information officer Tom Quinn.

Mr Quinn told an audience at the Broadcasting Digital Media Summit in Sydney yesterday that data was integral to the publisher’s delivery of its products.

“In today’s age of 24-hour digital consumption, we are no longer manufacturers but retailers,” Mr Quinn said. The use of data and the need for speed were the two key factors for success.

“News Corp Australia has never been more data-driven than it is now,” he said, “and we’ve never known more about our customers.”

Appointments like former David Jones chief marketing officer Damian Eales were a deliberate move to shape the company’s thinking into more like that of a mature retail organisation, where the customer is the key, Mr Quinn said.

“Users call the shots,” he said. “You need to be close to the customer. If you’re not fast [in meeting their needs], you miss out.”

Data plays a crucial role in how the company identifies what its readers want and how they behave towards different types of content. The linear design of the tablet app for News Corp mastheads – not unlike the way a printed newspaper is read – reflected data that showed 85 per cent of readers continue to the next article after reading a story on tablet, compared to five per cent who flip back to the previous article, and three per cent who exit.

The website proved to be a different beast with 82 per cent of readers clicking through to the homepage after reading a story, 12.5 per cent exiting and just 5.5 per cent clicking directly to another article, highlighting the homepage’s continued role as a crucial and “sticky” component for desktop news.

Data also provides huge commercial opportunities for publishers. News uses the Taste recipe database to provide consumers with brand recommendations, shopping specials and a recipe-to-cart function that allows readers to purchase ingredients directly from Coles.

Such initiatives utilise a variety of different data applications that are “plugged in” to products like Taste.com.au which Mr Quinn compared to the small Lego blocks that make up a large organisation.

Breaking a business down into the smallest possible components allowed for a more agile business model, ideal for the fast-paced digital world, in contrast to the “marathon runner” style of old media.

“By atomising your technology, it means you can fail fast – if you have to fail – and move on, by replacing that building block,” Mr Quinn said. Integration of these components using cloud technology was also key, he said, with the company’s goal to move 75 per cent of its computing into the cloud by the end of the year. Currently it is sitting at about half.

The publisher has become serious about centralising and developing its data team over the last 18 months and now has around 40 data engineering staff, a number which Mr Quinn says will continue to grow this year. “We’re now hiring data scientists – people who have done pure mathematics at university; we’re hiring people from Google who do this kind of thing,” he told The Newspaper Works.

He said data metrics such as emma (Enhanced Media Metrics Australia) were hugely useful.

“It paints a picture of our customer usage in the way it should be painted,” he said.

“We can drill down to a specific person and deliver much more defined audiences to advertisers.”

Reader privacy was also a huge priority, he said.

“With all this comes responsibility – the flip side of all this data is you have to protect it.”

The Broadcasting Digital Media Summit is an annual two-day conference run by Association and Communications Events.

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