NEWS published on 28 Mar 2017

Collaboration, trust and change: 2nd EBU Big Data Conference focuses on distinctive approach for PSM

Experts from public service media (PSM) and the audiovisual sector at large put their heads together last week in Geneva (21-22 March) to focus on how data can drive forward novel approaches to meet evolving user expectations and underpin social cohesion. 

To date, the use of big data in the media is all too often linked to words like ‘clickbait’, ‘filter bubbles’ and ‘fragmentation’. How can PSM utilize data differently, where user and audience data serve broader interests, starting by the user as a citizen? How can PSM mobilize big data to bring back the ‘public sphere’ in a fragmented digital environment?

140 delegates from 20 countries took part in the 2nd EBU Big Data Conference, a landmark for the 2nd year of the EBU Big Data Initiative. If ‘explore’ best described the 1st EBU conference dedicated to big data in 2016, ‘how to’ was at the heart of discussions for the 2017 edition.

A vast majority of EBU members (66%) consider that data is playing an important role within their organization. However, only 12% would consider that their organization is at an advanced stage when it comes to implementing data strategies.

Conference panels, round table discussions and interactive sessions addressed the key issues for the implementation of data strategies by PSM, with speakers looking at the concrete legal, technical, editorial and research-related aspects.

Event presentations available here for EBU members.



The need to boost collaboration, within PSM organizations, amongst them at European level, and with digital industries, academia and civil society was a recurrent theme throughout discussions.

“Stop working in silos!” Several speakers showed how the best results stem from cross-disciplinary work. Recommendation algorithms may be designed by data scientists, but the involvement of editorial, marketing and legal teams from the very start is the best guarantee to make sure that algorithms produced by PSM tend to sustain ‘artificial intelligence’ rather than ‘artificial dumbness’.

Likewise, the involvement of data researchers and scientists in the newsroom will help journalists make best use of their datasets and tell their story in the most pertinent way possible for audiences.

Cooperation between EBU members was also a central issue, dubbed as a “Billion Euro question” by YLE’s Mika Rahkonen. For the EBU’s Guillaume Klossa, “PSM need to develop together the critical mass to create the right conditions for ‘ecosystemic’ innovation and assert their data strategies in an environment which is currently dominated by global tech giants.”

Collaboration between EBU members on concrete projects is already taking shape, with delegates from RTS, BR and the EBU presenting the PEACH recommendation system which they developed together.  

Research by academia and the views of civil society can also play a part shaping PSM data strategies. RTS CEO Gilles Marchand stressed that data-related research by academia “must find its way to the boardroom”. Drawing upon research from the humanities as well as other fields will “open up minds and support interdisciplinary work from the onset”, noted Utrecht University’s Mirko Tobias Schaefer.


Obtaining the trust of users is vital for PSM strategies in the digital environment. PSM need to be transparent about their data strategies and ensure that they are accountable towards users.

In this light, UN Special Rapporteur for Privacy Prof. Joseph Cannataci underlined why ‘privacy by design’ must be built-in to PSM data instruments from the onset.

Privacy policies must be ‘reader –friendly’ and demonstrate to users that personal data will be used in their interest and under their control. With new EU rules on online data protection currently being implemented, PSM also have an opportunity not only to comply but use these new rules as a means of distinguishing themselves. Legal Counsel Prof. Lokke Moerel and Council of Europe expert Prof. Alessandro Mantelero gave recommendations on how to go beyond this regulatory framework to actively show that PSM privacy policies respond to the “ethical and social implications of big data”.

As part of its Big Data Initiative, the EBU intends to further identify common trust and privacy principles for PSM in Europe which clearly show users that their concerns are accounted for and how their data is contributing to a better experience.


For VRT’s Dieter Boon, “Big Data isn’t a technical project, it’s a change project”. This point was frequently highlighted by speakers from various disciplines during the whole conference.

‘Data evangelists’ have an important role to play to demonstrate the value of data internally. Channel 4’s Sanjeevan Bala highlighted their importance in his organization’s path towards a data company and pointed at the need to deploy organizational change in line with corporate objectives.

Speakers also touched upon the need to obtain full support by organization leaders, acquire new skills, recruit new types of profiles and be ready to experiment.

Beyond changing organizations, data should also change the game for ‘traditional’ professions in PSM. DW’s Mirko Lorenz and Dr. Neal Rothleder of Orbmedia urged journalists to acquire new skills and master new tools, from the basics of Excel spreadsheets to data visualization tools in order to use data effectively and enable audiences to fully grasp what the facts and numbers mean in practice.

Data is also transforming the way broadcasters measure their audience across platforms. Uffe Høy Svenningsen showed how DR are collecting data from different sources and combing them into a ‘hybrid’ measurement model which delivers TV and online audience data on a daily basis, while Nick Johnson presented "Total Screen Ratings" tool, which has boosted RTE’s data strategy by industrializing the process of collecting, amalgamating and visualizing audience data.

Last but not least, PSM have a responsibility to help audiences change their outlook and better understand how big data is transforming their relationship with the media. The BBC’s Peter Farrell and RTBF’s Pierre-Nicolas Schwab showed that educating users with interactive videos help them understand how their own data shapes their pathway towards programmes and news.  RTE’s Lucy Campbell also highlighted that data literacy is essential for media managers to develop and informed and critical understanding of big data, in order to pass this on to audiences.


Overall, the 2nd EBU Big Data Conference showed that European PSM organizations are increasingly developing tailored approaches to data and rapidly expanding their know-how in this area. At the same time, it may be too early to claim that most have fully embraced the data revolution.

The EBU Big Data Initiative will continue throughout 2017 and beyond with specialized work streams and events aiming to develop common conclusions and best practices to support the deployment of data strategies by European PSM.