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In 60 minutes, Channel 4 can analyze and model in-session data to deliver highly targeted ads to viewers – before a program ends

To get closer to growing video-on-demand (VOD) audiences and match them with advertisers, Channel 4 chose a cloud-based solution to help make sense of and monetize its unprecedented volumes of platform data.

"In 60 minutes we can analyze live viewer data and target ads during a TV program." - Sanjeevan Bala, Head of Data Planning & Analytics, Channel 4

Launched in 1982, Channel 4 is now established as one of the UK's premier public service TV channels. But changing consumer lifestyles and technology advances have inevitably meant that Channel 4 viewers are consuming content in new and diverse ways.

The explosion of web-connected devices, such as tablets, mobiles, consoles, and Internet-enabled TVs, has accelerated the changes. Viewing audiences of 46 million now regularly access Channel 4 broadcast TV, as well as the company's ever-growing on-demand services, such as 4oD catch-up TV, Film4, and bespoke games and social channels.

But business success delivers new challenges. The volume of largely unstructured web data flowing from Channel 4's proliferating video on demand (VOD) platforms grew faster than its existing business intelligence systems were designed to manage.

"With Amazon EMR we can analyze 100% of the data, not just a sample. Traditional analytics can't do that." - Sanjeevan Bala, Head of Data Planning & Analytics, Channel 4

So, with a business and brand mission to connect more personally with viewers and more closely with advertisers, Channel 4 identified the need for smarter, more agile decision-making in its commissioning, scheduling, and monetizing of content.

Solving the business problem

To realize its business objectives, Channel 4 needed a proven high-performance data-analytics solution – a flexible, integrated service capable of capturing, storing, indexing, searching, mapping, analyzing and matching high volumes of viewer and platform data on demand.

They chose Amazon Elastic MapReduce (EMR) from Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon EMR uses Amazon EC2 instances, which feature Intel® Xeon® E5 family processors. The collaboration of AWS and Intel brings together the availability, flexibility and virtually unlimited capacity of a cloud-based solution, with the proven power to process huge volumes of data.

During the Channel 4 project research phase, its teams had investigated the feasibility of using their existing data-analytics software to perform key tasks. They found it would take eight months to deliver the relevant base-data for analysts to access. By contrast, the AWS cloud-based system meant they could begin analyzing and modeling the data in just two-and-a-half days.

Getting to know viewers as never before

Channel 4 is now able to bring its registered VOD viewers closer than ever to both content and advertisers, with benefits for both parties. It connects more closely with viewers by better understanding their preferences and behavior, analyzing repeat viewers to schedule more relevant content and to commission enticing new content. It can even serve highly targeted ads in-session, before a viewer's program ends.

Its modeling systems can even predict the socioeconomic class, age and gender of anonymous or unregistered viewers from content viewed, giving advertisers unprecedented confidence in optimizing media placements.

Vast data capabilities for a modest outlay

Using the AWS cloud allowed Channel 4 to avoid the need to invest in massive server infrastructure, disks, and CPUs. Instead, Channel 4 analysts can now instantly provision as much or as little capacity as they need from Amazon Elastic MapReduce, a service that enables the business to perform complex business intelligence tasks such as predictive modeling with maximum speed, cost-efficiency, and return on investment.

Channel 4 has also developed a Big Data control panel (BDCP), a web-based interface that allows analysts to spin up and spin down Amazon EMR clusters, submit queries through Apache Hive and Pig, monitor job status, and extract sample or actual data to run into modeling applications. BDCP puts convenience, control, power, and speed right in the hands of the people who need it, while providing a simple solution to a complex business problem.

Opening up the future

AWS has helped Channel 4 build ad revenues, enhance its marketing of content, and use detailed, dynamic data to open up exciting new business opportunities.

Best of all, Channel 4 can have a direct relationship with its nine million registered viewers for the first time, even modeling in-session data to deliver relevant ads before a program ends – an enviable advantage for any broadcaster.

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