The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

Last week, New York Times columnist Nate Silver correctly predicted the outcome of the presidential election by combining and analyzing data from hundreds of individual polls. Not everyone was happy with him or his approach. Some political pundits took offense not only to Silver’s methods but also the man himself. The attacks became personal as they described him as “a man of very small stature” and “a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice.”

Now, though, the pundits are the ones on the defensive. It turns out that opinionated rants are a less reliable way to predict an election outcome than data and algorithms.

Compared to politics, the media industry is much further along in its adoption of technology and data to predict results. Ohal, the WPP company, has been using econometric modeling to inform media selection for 40 years. The trend has accelerated over the past decade with the rise of digital media as companies on both the buy and sell side have been remade. Earlier this year at the IAB Annual Conference, Rob Norman, global chief digital officer for GroupM, the world’s largest media agency, remarked that the agency has increasingly hired more people with a background in applied mathematics versus traditional liberal arts majors.

Things are also changing very rapidly for people on the sell side. Last week Federated Media announced it was eliminating its banner ad sales in favor of self-serve platforms like iSocket. The week before that, iSocket announced that it had raised $8 million in funding. Software is eating the world, including some of the jobs on the sell side of the business.

The complete transformation of media to a geek-based world is now tantalizingly close. New York’s television industry has stood its ground for a decade against a flood of technology. But how many more upfront events can there possibly be? Regardless of whether it’s three, five, or 10 years from now, eventually TV buying will also be automated, with much of the inventory purchased in real time by algorithms. The last upfront party will likely take place in an Amazon data center.

There’s little point in fighting the transition to this new world. It will happen. Professionally, the important thing is to not get stranded as each successive wave of technology crashes around us. Old-school executives and consultants are particularly vulnerable right now, as are a number of ad salespeople. As technology changes, we each need to be prepared to constantly refine our skills and reinvent ourselves. Five years ago I was working for a media agency running new business and accounts. Three years ago I was in ad tech doing sales and marketing. Today, I’m building a software company.

Like the political pundits, everyone in media needs to adapt to this new world of technology, data and automation. Once the transformation is complete, we’ll either be geeks ourselves, have migrated to another industry, or be retired.

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5 comments about "The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth".
  1. Max Kalehoff from SocialCode , November 12, 2012 at 11:56 a.m.
    Amen.
  2. Leon Thomas from Flashy Trends , November 12, 2012 at 1:04 p.m.
    Hopefully, Rasmussen and Dick Morris will retire.
  3. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , November 13, 2012 at 4:24 a.m.
    The issue is not that Nate Silver predicted the outcome - that was partly luck because nothing really bad happened for Obama in the last week. It's that Nate Silver correctly predicted the *shape* of the outcome - the relative votes for each client in various states and demographics. If you imagine this as a wiggly line, it floated up and down in response to events such as Obama's failure in the first tv debate, but its shape never changed. Predicting the shape removes a lot of the randomness from predicting the result, but it not the same as predicting it with certainty.
  4. Matt Straz from Namely , November 13, 2012 at 6:45 p.m.
    Good point, Pete. I was going to get into that but wanted to bring the piece around to media.
  5. Manjiry Tamhane from Ohal , November 14, 2012 at 9:24 a.m.
    Totally agree. Multiple consumer touch points demand smarter thinking from advertisers. The analysis and insights must be the starting point on which future creativity and new thinking is overlaid.