With Analytics, I'm Cozying Up With Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey fans out there, do you know you have five days left to catch Season 2, Episode 1, online at PBS.org? Next will come Season 2, Episode 2, of course, for a limited time.

In preparation for the impending season, PBS.org is re-airing Season 2 of this popular Masterpiece program throughout December, and offering the episodes -- one per week -- for online viewing as well. What a perfect Christmas gift, I think. Coming late to the Downton Abbey party, and only having been able to view Season 1 on Netflix this summer, I've been anxiously awaiting the chance to meet up with the Granthams and their servants once again.

Now, even in this day and age of everybody trying to reach customers on multiple channels, some might still question the wisdom of a broadcast network offering an online viewing option. As you might surmise, I have a bit of an analytics backstory to share on this.

It starts about five years ago, when Amy Sample arrived at PBS.org as its new director of web analytics. At the time, the organization was focused on delivering monthly reports on individual program sites -- one for Masterpiece, one for Frontline, another for Nova, and so on. Over time, and under her auspices, the group began analyzing the PBS.org site as a whole, "looking to understand how people are using all of the program sites together -- the PBS universe," Sample told me in a phone interview.

Then, in 2009, PBS.org launched its video portal, and realized the data it gleaned from its traditional web analytics alone wasn't enough. Sample went on to say:

As you might imagine, as a broadcast network, much of the building is focused on television -- they didn't really understand what the web is for and whether the web is really adding value -- the numbers are completely different. So we had to figure out how to actually show that the website adds value to the broadcast as well.
What Sample wanted to be able to do was learn why people were coming to PBS.org, and find out whether or not they were able to accomplish what it is they wanted to do while there. Then, she needed to be able to connect what people did on the website with their offline behavior -- did they view an American Masters program schedule online, then flip on the TV to catch the next episode, for example? In other words, was PBS.org's digital strategy paying off?

The answer, learned from use of Foresee Satisfaction Analytics, is, "Yes."

PBS.org expected people to head online to view TV schedules, and search its 10 or so years of program archives. And while some of this holds true, Sample said, the Foresee customer experience analysis showed something surprising -- the "share volume of people coming to watch video." One third of the people coming to PBS.org did so with the primary goal of watching video, the Foresee analytics showed.

They also showed a "virtuous cycle," from online to TV and back again. People liked having the video online, which ultimately translates in a greater willingness to give to local stations, Sample noted. "Once we knew all this, we could really justify why we were doing the video portal, and why we were putting so much effort and resources into increasing the visibility of video on the site," Sample explained.

And so tonight, I'm snuggling up with my laptop, and maybe a comforting cup of cocoa. When Season 1 left off, England -- and so, too, the folks at Downton Abbey -- was headed into the war.

Do you like to watch TV programs online? Which ones?

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors, Folio.net, and others.

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Internet + TV + viewing
  • 12/28/2012 10:15:48 AM


CallMeBob writes

 I actually actually watch a lot of PBS programs (Masterpiece, Nova, Frontline) on my iPad. I'm a fan of all the Mystery programs like Sherlock, Wallender, Inspector Lewis, and Foyle's War. I usually try to watch on their regularly scheduled broadcasts but being able to watch online at my convenience (time and location) makes me a big and loyal fan.


We are basically addicted to the same programs, but require the splendor of a larger screen (30" HD CRT, pygmy and outmoded by today's mega-LCD or mega-plasma standards).  In the past I have viewed stuff online by necessity — we had to watch an episode of House that way — but it required huddling around a relatively puny PC monitor.

To sate our insatiable appetite for the Downton saga, we have a helpful pipeline into the original UK broadcasts, through modern technology enhanced via Analytics and Big Data, so we're well into Season 3 already.  No spoilers from me!


Re: Watching the detectives
  • 12/28/2012 7:04:44 AM

I've had a problem with NPR websites for a long time. It just seems they have so much information there, but no easy way to find what you're looking for. Using Google seems, so far. to be the best way to drill down to where you really want to go. If Google can find stuff so quickly, why can't NPR show me the way even quicker?

Re: Watching the detectives
  • 12/6/2012 8:25:02 PM

Blockbuster?  The idea that you actually have to go somewhere to rent a movie sounds so foreign to me now. 

I admit that all these media channels ruined me.  The DVR was the deathblow.  No longer did I have to choose between shows, I could watch them all. Hence, my slide into oblivion.  

I find it interesting that I see shows and movies circle all the channels, usually not available in more than a couple places at one time.

Re: Watching the detectives
  • 12/5/2012 4:40:03 PM

@callmebob, likewise here. 

Re: Watching the detectives
  • 12/5/2012 4:26:36 PM

@Beth - Ergo, the Blockbuster in my downtown is just an empty shell waiting for the next brick and mortar to give it a go.

Re: Watching the detectives
  • 12/5/2012 4:12:51 PM

@callmebob, way back when, as a young journalist, I had the opportunity to visit Sprint headquarters for a visit (I was writing about public network services at the time). I interviewed all sorts of other people who had really interesting ideas to share about how the power of the telephone network would change our world -- one of which was that carriers would one day be delivering so much bandwidth into homes, and carrying voice AND data, that I'd ultimately be able to get any video I wanted on demand. ON DEMAND!!!!! Holy smokes, I remember thinking. And here we are, a mere -- well, lots of years -- later and voila! We're still working on getting it just right, but you've got to love the flexibility video streaming of TV programs allows.


Re: Watching the detectives
  • 12/5/2012 4:04:34 PM

Beth - The British Sherlock makes the the US TV version look like kindergarten and it adheres to the spirit of Doyle's Sherlock and other characters.

And what did us TV watchers do before streaming video? We wore out our remotes channel surfing.

Re: Watching the detectives
  • 12/5/2012 3:51:38 PM

@callmebob --no spoilers please! 

Next up after Downton Abbey will be Sherlock. I've been roped into that by my daughters, who love all things British ever since British boy band One Direction arrived on the scene. (Dr. Who is another of their favorites.) They swear Sherlock is worlds better than Elementary, the US version we're currently also working our way through on Netflix. I've only caught one episode of Sherlock -- the first one, I suppose, where Watson meets Sherlock and moves into his flat with him. Quite clever.

What did us TV watchers do before the days of streaming video!

Watching the detectives
  • 12/5/2012 2:02:25 PM

Beth, I'm Downton Abbeyed out from watching my wife overdose on the Crawley family and the hoi polloi. That being said, I'm anxious to watch Violet (Maggie Smith) get into a catfight with Lady Grantham's mother (Shirley MacLaine) in the upcoming season. I'm putting my money on Shirley --- Lord Grantham needs financial backing to manage Downton Abbey and Shirley being one of those upstart Americans with earned money has them over a barrel.

But back to your question about watching TV online. I actually actually watch a lot of PBS programs (Masterpiece, Nova, Frontline) on my iPad. I'm a fan of all the Mystery programs like Sherlock, Wallender, Inspector Lewis, and Foyle's War. I usually try to watch on their regularly scheduled broadcasts but being able to watch online at my convenience (time and location) makes me a big and loyal fan. Also, I like checking out the Daily News and Colbert since I'm usually occupied when their shows are on.