“The human factor is the biggest challenge at the moment.”

Florian Laszlo

Interview with Florian Laszlo, Secretary General of FIBEP and CEO of Observer, a leading media intelligence company in Austria.

Hi Florian, what is your background and what is included in your current role at Observer?

I studied law and held several positions in communications and event management, and then started at the family company, Observer. After a while, I became part of the executive team, and since 2013 I’m the sole CEO of the company.

As we are a rather small company, my role is quite diverse. I lead the key strategic product development and marketing; it’s a 360 degree role as is usual for executives in smaller companies.

What differs Observer from other social media intelligence companies in Austria?

We are the media monitoring company with the longest and best track record. If you count forums, we have been doing social media monitoring since 1999. We have been monitoring platforms since 2008 or 2009 on a regular basis with different tools to compile analysis for our clients.

We developed our own scanning and spidering technologies, but we use different suppliers so we can combine the feeds to the most optimal outcome.

Observer has been around for a very long time. How has the company been able to stay relevant through different trends over time?

My company is 122 years old and has been doing media monitoring since the beginning. You see that new trends seem to be really new if you look at them from a close range, but if you take a few steps back, they’re not so new, they’re just an aberration of the same thing.

I think that the human way of communicating and engaging with each other didn’t change over the years that much. I think that the development of the media industry will go way slower than you would expect if you see what new types of media are being developed. On the basis of human communication, it stays the same, regardless if it’s on Facebook or on a handheld device, it’s still human communication. The big question is how to create a business model that’s adapted to the changing landscape, but still takes into account the relatively unchanged basics of human communication.

What are your greatest challenges ahead at Observer when it comes to serving your customer analysis and developing your offer?

The biggest challenge is that while we get access to data from the platforms, mainly Facebook, the data has been reduced in depth several times. That poses an issue that we have to deal with.

Another challenge is getting the clients to understand the relevance of what we’re doing so they don’t just think that we have cool analytics, but truly understand the necessity of our work for their daily decision making.

Have you recently, or are you planning to, release any new technology-based solutions that will add to or improve your services?

I do not see any new solutions or technology coming around. We have to optimize the existing tools and approaches. The next challenge is on the side of implementation; we still see large limitations that technology and artificial intelligence has in delivering results that are final and can be sent directly to the client. The biggest challenge is the compilation of relevant and understandable results; the human factor is the biggest challenge at the moment.

All clients have different levels of understanding how media can be analyzed; what is the most common misconception that your clients have?

The biggest misconception that clients have is that gathering and analyzing data is easy, and the second misconception is that they feel that the data just falls out of the machine. That is not the case and can leave clients quite unhappy because they expected something different and are not satisfied with the result.

Clients often feel this process should be quite cheap or completely free, but social is actually much more expensive than some old school things because there is so much work involved. Data access alone involves three figure sums, which definitely doesn’t meet the expectation of the clients.

With the experience you have in this industry, being with Observer for the last 17 years, what changes in the industry have been the most unexpected over the years?

I would not see unexpected changes—as technology progresses, humans are sticking to their known behavior and perhaps will never change at all.  The big difference is seen between perception and practical life concerning the importance of social media. The clients still see print, radio and television as relevant, while everyone is talking about online and social.  The difference between the quality of a PDF document and a link, and the difference between seeing a physical result or visiting a website, is the important thing, and seen as more valuable and priceworthy, which leads to less price sensitivity there.

When it comes to the actual data behind the media intelligence you do, what kind of data or media can be interesting in the future that is not used today?

We are probably looking at much less data that we can access in the future than right now because the access will be reduced and limited as platforms are more reluctant to share data, and there is the legal issue of privacy. With less data from social media, the importance of analyzing the data that we get is also rising.

You are the Secretary General of FIBEP, which is heading towards the 50th FIBEP World Media Intelligence Congress in Copenhagen in October. What are your expectations for the event, and what do you think will be the hot topics and discussions there? 

The hottest topic will be design, specifically user interface and experience. As we have so much data, but no one can digest it, you need analysis that compiles it into digitized form and processes it to make it understandable to get insights. Getting more data is not the important thing, it’s more about getting smart and relevant data that can be extracted from the large number of data volumes we can access.

The second aspect of the event is to meet and network with colleagues from around the world. We share our experiences with each other so we can walk away from the event more informed.

What are the greatest challenges for FIBEP as an organization in the near future when it comes to supporting its members?

The challenge is the same for all organizations, which is staying relevant in the changing landscape and providing relevant information to members. I’m not doubtful that the challenge will be met easily in the future.

Since we don’t send out data, but make human contact and meeting possible and interesting, I’m sure it will become even more relevant as the world grows together and the media markets develops, making it more important to share insights.

FIBEP shares a lot of members and interests with AMEC, International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication. How would you describe the relationship between the two organizations today and in the future?

We have a very positive relationship with AMEC because we work together on many projects and will continue doing so. We have two different strongholds—AMEC concentrates on the valuation part, while FIBEP has the historic base in data gathering and processing, which was called monitoring once. It’s about data as a first step, and the second is analysis; no data means no analysis. That is the reason many of the members belong to both organizations, so that they can discuss analysis and evaluation.

How would you like to see FIBEP change over the next 10 years?

I would say it will change and needs to as the industry changes, but as I don’t know how the industry will change, I can’t say how FIBEP will. Predictions are a lot harder than in earlier times, so the solution is staying agile and adapting quickly. What is obvious is that the growing professionalization of the industry and corporate structures leads to a more professional structure of the association in general; not so much pro bono work and not so much interest of young professionals in doing that.

Members expect the same from the association as you would from a professional workshop organizer, that is the general change in Western society that affects FIBEP, and the organization needs to be flexible to adapt to what industry trends will bring.

How do you think the media intelligence industry will change in the next 5 years, and what are the greatest challenges?

I think the industry will grow in importance and will see new competitors coming into the field from consulting. We will see the move from monitoring and evaluation to insights and to consulting. For example, bookkeeping was once a simple service, and now the Big 4 are doing consulting on a quite consistent and high level, and they still do bookkeeping themselves as well.

That will happen in the media industry as well, so we will add on consulting and we will be much more competitive with classic consulting companies who will try to cover our special areas as well.

The greatest challenge is new competitors with a different background; the successful ones will move up the food chain from providing limited and specific services to broader consulting roles, as that is what the market expects and where the outsourcing trends will lead to.

Look what happened to companies that offered map services when Google Maps started doing it for free. Someone can say they will compete for free, making it a big threat to others.

By Renata Ilitsky

“We can no longer successfully do our job without the help of automation and artificial intelligence.”

Judy King

Interview with Judy King, Director of Innovation at BBC Monitoring, UK.

Hi Judy, what is your background, and what is included in your current role at BBC Monitoring? 

I joined BBC Monitoring as a researcher in November 1999, following two years teaching English in rural Japan. And I have been there ever since, apart from a brief stint working at the BBC News website.

After 18 years, I really understand what makes BBC Monitoring tick. And this is hugely beneficial in my current role in which I head up the innovation team. Our work is very varied. On any one day we could be running a pilot to try out a new tool with one of our regional teams, collaborating with the BBC’s NewsLabs team on language technology prototypes or advising other BBC teams on using Agile ways of working in the Newsroom.

What differs BBC Monitoring from other media monitoring companies?

Many companies in this area are tech firms using AI and machine learning for brand monitoring purposes. We are quite different. We don’t only rely on technology and algorithms to find relevant information.

We employ highly-skilled, multi-lingual journalists who have a deep understanding of the media environment they are covering. This enables them to navigate through the ever-growing number of sources to spot trends and find the stories that matter.

We have a long history of reporting on developments from the world’s media. We have been doing this since the Second World War after all! And we are able to draw on this deep archive to enable our users to make sense of the present.

What are the possibilities and benefits of automation of the editorial workflow?

BBCM’s role is to understand and navigate media ecosystems to find news, spot disinformation and give context to events. Not just one, but many ecosystems, in many languages. And it is changing fast. Gone are the days when you could watch one state TV station and read a couple of newspapers to know what is going on in a country. We can no longer successfully do our job without the help of automation and artificial intelligence.

We use tools to help us keep across social and online sources, but for broadcast media it is much more difficult. There are huge benefits for our journalists to have access to speech-to-text transcripts of the broadcasts they are watching – in the vernacular language. This would enable us to keep across many more TV sources, find the information that is relevant to our users and spend more time adding context and insight to the output that they are producing.

What are the challenges of automation?

I think that the main challenge is how to fully integrate automation into the journalists’ daily work. If we were to just bolt it on as another tool available for people to use, without considering the entire workflow, we would not be able to realise all the benefits that introducing speech-to-text and other automated technology could bring.

What would your advice be on how to meet those challenges?

I think it is all about piloting and getting the technology into the workflow as soon as you can.

Of course, you also need to set the right expectations with journalists. The quality of the transcript will not be perfect and you should be clear about that from the start.

But if you can get the technology in front of journalists – even if it is not perfect – then they can start to experiment with how the automated transcripts can help them produce even more creative and original journalism.

When it comes to introducing automation of the editorial workflow, what next steps will we see in the near future that will improve it even further?

I haven’t seen any speech-to-text technology in any language that is perfect (getting people’s names right, for example, is extremely difficult). But there is a lot of focus on language technology at the moment and it is improving all the time. Even now the accuracy of the transcripts can also be improved if coupled with other technology, such as face recognition and speech recognition.

There is currently a lot of discussion about “fake news.” What do you think about the balance in the discussion between the focus on fake news compared to real news (where all facts are correct in)?

It is an extremely complicated picture. In many cases it is unclear whether what we are seeing is misinformation, which you could describe as the inadvertent sharing of false information, or disinformation, which is the deliberate creation and sharing of false information.

Our journalists are highly skilled at verifying what they see on the media they are covering. In some cases, what they see are efforts by media outlets not just to mislead and misinform, but sow confusion, undermine public trust in the media, create the impression that you can’t get to the bottom of things – that there is no truth, no facts, just opinions.

Have you recently, or are you planning to, release any new technology-based solutions that will add to or improve services for your clients? 

We are constantly looking for ways to improve our service to our customers. We recently introduced a new “fake news” tag onto our website to enable our users to more easily find articles on disinformation and propaganda. We are about to make improvements to our search functionality, to guide our users even more smoothly through our news and reference content, enabling them to quickly get to the information they need.

When it comes to the actual data behind the analysis that you do, what kind of data or media can be interesting in the future that you do not use for your analysis today? 

In the future I envisage us doing a lot more big data work, analyzing trends and how they develop across time. For example, capturing a broader swathe of media content than we are currently capable of analyzing and using it to find stories hidden in the data. We would also want to integrate this with our vast archive of monitored media output, which dates back decades.

How do you think the monitoring industry will change in the next 5-10 years, and what are the greatest challenges ahead?

If, in the coming years, technology companies continue to make leaps forward in automation and machine learning, transcription and translation will become reliable. I think that will bring the biggest change to the media monitoring industry.

But even if the language technology does improve considerably, non-specialists will still need help to navigate the increasingly complex media environments around the world. BBC Monitoring will continue to develop a reputation as source specialists, guiding our users to what matters to them.

By Renata Ilitsky