The era of big data is rapidly changing the face of public broadcasting in South Africa, requiring a paradigm shift and skillset of personnel working in the media industry to understand the value and opportunities of data better. Just recently, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) hosted its second instalment of the CxO Series business event, that brought together highly influential C – level leaders from several industries to unpack “Big Data”, its governance, management, storage, security, and its utilisation for advanced analytics. Underpinning the subject of big data, was the question of why it is not classified as an asset in an organisation’s financial reporting.

By way of definition, data is generally understood to be facts and statistics that are collected and processed to produce information, which is in turn used by individuals and organisations for decision making. Because data adds value to a business, it should, by its nature, have a financial value as an asset to a business. Based on the definition of an asset, the nature of assets is that they depreciate over time. However, that is not the case with data. In fact, data can appreciate over time, by combining data sets to provide new insights and help develop new solutions, products and services and value propositions for customers. Therefore, the argument for data being viewed as an asset becomes even more contended, especially for an organisation like the SABC that is looking to gain a competitive advantage from its rich data sets to achieve its organisational imperatives.

Several presentations made by the speakers were indeed aligned with the view of data as an important resource in their business operations, where its use goes far beyond what could be termed surface level. For instance, Mr Marius Barnard of Tharisa Minerals highlighted the significant impact that data gathering, and analysis has had on resource planning and allocation, which is inclusive of personnel, as this has a direct impact on the company’s outputs. Being able to analyse the trends in employee behaviour concerning attendance assisted them in developing risk mitigation initiatives. These initiatives ensure that they can deploy early intervention strategies when they foresee challenges on the horizon – which is a critical benefit for their mining operations.

For the SABC, this was an important conversation, especially as the organisation transitions from its stabilising phase into the growth phase of its turnaround strategy, which is the acceleration of the organisation’s financial sustainability.

Big Data within the SABC does not exist in a vacuum. Through our 19 Radio stations, 6 TV channels, scrollers ads, individualised interaction with the public, etc, the SABC generates large volumes of data that we need to capture, set stringent governance around and apply advanced analytics in order for the data to offer value both to internal customers as well as external audiences and customers.

The use of data as an enabler can provide a better appreciation of what service offering and value proposition the SABC can tailor to meet the needs of both our customers and our audiences. But this is easier said than done. If you look at SABC programmes and advertising slots, both from a Radio and TV point of view: 24/7/365 days a year, multiplied by the numerous different channels and platforms, the complexity of managing data at the SABC is evident. Moreover, the SABC’s business resonated with the adage that “time is money”. If we do not capture what our audiences are watching or listening to every second of the day, and monetise that, we lose money.

As such, we have identified that the critical success factors of our digital journey will be inclined towards how we manage and embrace digital governance; how we redefine our core business and manage the creation of new products and services, business and models, ways of creating value for customers, ways of collaborating with suppliers, customers, and stakeholders, as well as ways of working.

We are also acutely aware of the era of AI in which we operate, and while this is a key development that we must adapt quickly, we need the right people and the right skills. We must enable our people to reinvent themselves to be effective in a digital world, and design, implement and support the many exciting initiatives presented by our digital transformation journey.

The media and broadcasting terrain is at the centre of the digital vortex and continues to evolve at breakneck speeds. Therefore, our ability to adapt and transform ourselves into a broadcaster of choice requires us to be informed and have insights about our industry, customers and audiences, and technologies that are leading transformation agendas around the world.

Of course, there are challenges with this concept and many others in the digital transformation conversation that still need to be addressed, however, it’s the opportunities that lie ahead and the excitement that comes with unearthing them, which give credence to the need for more research, engagement, exploration, and collaboration amongst all role players.

As we look forward to the rollout of the SABC’s OTT platform, the analysis of big data will accurately inform us precisely what content our customers are consuming, what they want to consume, and when, where and how they want to consume it. This information will in turn provide unmatched benefits to our customers, audience, industry and the Corporation.

In conclusion, a healthy public broadcaster is the heartbeat of our society – providing compelling entertainment, information, and educational content. Analytics of big data will provide much-needed insights and foresight that will ensure that the public broadcaster continues to play a catalytic role in South Africa’s digital transformation journey and social cohesion.