Since Leonardo Da Vinci finished painting the Sistine Chapel in 1512 it is practically impossible to know how many people have seen it, what they thought of it, which part they looked at the most or any kind of metric surrounding it. In fact, the most famous element that almost everybody associates with it, is simply two hands reaching towards one another, which people only know because that’s the part that is most widely shared in popular media.
It has also been 50 years since the Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s, arguably their best-loved album. When it was originally sold it was done so through vinyl records, meaning that although it was pretty simple to see how many people had initially bought the record, it was impossible to know how many times it had been played or how many people had listened to it after being passed to friends and family.
Today media has changed so completely that the platforms upon which we can host new forms of it also act to give us a huge amount of data. So how have we changed the way we consume and record media and how has data changed it?
The consumption of music is perhaps the singularly most changed media format over the past 30 years. We went from vinyl, to cassettes, to CDs, (briefly) to minidiscs, to MP3 CDs, to MP3s, until we finally landed on streaming. It has gradually become more and more digital throughout, giving us an increasing number of metrics to measure until today, where Spotify provides over 2 billion hours of music to its users every month.
However, it is not only in the relatively cutting edge areas of music streaming that data has had a big impact, it is also in radio use.
Previously, knowing the numbers of listeners on analogue radios has been pretty hit or miss, with a small cross section of people having devices that could see which station they were listening to and basic surveys that allowed radio stations to get some insight into their listeners. Today with the widespread use of digital radios, several countries are even turning off the AM/FM channels completely, with Norway doing so in January 2017.
Digital radios offer radio companies considerably more information that has helped with increased targeting for advertising, more accurate listener numbers, and even geographies for location based advertising. It may not be at the same level as streaming services, but compared to how it was before, it is a considerable step up.
Over 50% of US households now use some kind of TV streaming service on a regular basis, of which 75% use Netflix. In fact between 9pm and 12am, it represents 37% of the total bandwidth use in the US. A major part of its success has been down to its use of data, which allows it to recommend movies, work out individual’s viewing habits, and even create its own shows based on this data.
House of Cards, for instance, was created because Netflix’s data showed them that people liked Kevin Spacey and political dramas, it then went on to become the first internet-only show to win a Golden Globe.
They also use this data to buy the best possible shows from other studios that their audience is likely to appreciate, with one of the key ways of doing this, oddly, being seeing which films are being pirated the most. Given that they are also incredibly reticent to give numbers for how any program or film is performing on their site, it also means that they have a key advantage in the negotiation of fees for new content being purchased. Given that they work through a subscription model which requires no advertising, they are also under no pressure to release this data, and indeed doing so would be detrimental to their overall business model.
Pictures, photographs, sculptures, and even natural landscapes will always be best experienced in person, but with the primary social sharing platforms now focussing on images, it has given considerably more coverage to them.
Only 10 years ago it would have been a struggle to find an audience for more obscure art forms, whilst today, thanks to these social image platforms, it has become increasingly easy to share artwork across the world. Urban artworks have seen a particular uptick in popularity thanks to this phenomenon, with the success of artists like Banksy as much down to people finding and sharing the artworks online, as any kind of media coverage.
Data has helped immeasurably in this case because it allows artists to know their market, understand what people like and don’t like, and even the best possible places to organize exhibitions to maximize reach.
Similarly, when it comes to landscapes, with the number of people who share images from vacation or just aspirational images through these platforms have seen countries with spectacular views that would have previously been unknown become increasingly popular. A prime example of this is from my own life, where I saw an image of Lake Bled in Slovenia (somewhere I had never considered visiting) on Instagram and was compelled to visit myself.
It has allowed countries like Iceland to explode in popularity, with 2016 marking the point at which there were more visitors from the US alone than the entire population of the country. This has come from the sharing of the spectacular scenery on platforms like Instagram, with data giving tourist boards, plane companies, and holiday operators the opportunity to advertise to specific people who are most likely to be receptive to these images.