Sarah Halmkin – UKTV

Sarah Halmkin – UKTV

Sarah Halmkin is Insight Manager at UKTV Media Limited, a British multi-channel broadcaster owned by BBC Studios. UKTV’s channels are primarily delivered to audiences through UKTV Play, Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media, BT, TalkTalk, YouView, Freesat, and Amazon Fire. UKTV’s insights team consists of 13 professionals, working across 8 brands. In her role, Sarah primarily works across the tv brands Dave and W and is involved in delivering the insight to inform the strategy for these channels. Sarah: “In our insights roles we don’t work on specific functions, we work with all departments. We work with commissioning in terms of content insights, with the commercial team to look at opportunities, scheduling to discover what audiences are watching, and the marketing and creative team on advertising insights, promotions, and testing those. As well as bigger projects that look at opportunities and barriers across the network.”

Main KPIs

According to Sarah, it can be tricky to pinpoint a few KPIs in broadcast, as your product is constantly changing: “We are trying to take a step back and have a few key KPIs across channels, and for each campaign, we have more specific ones. Overall, we have SOCI targets, which is share of commercial impact, which we use to measure our linear business and track our size and position in the market. Then we have VOD (video-on-demand) growth, which we track quite closely on views, registered users, and retention rates. Also, our success is measured by strengthening our programming slate. As a network, we are increasingly commissioning more of our own programmes. We look at ratings when a new show launches but also non-data KPIs such as recognition we gain from it. Finally, we look at how much our audience values our brand through our on-demand and channel tracker which measures the awareness of our channels and competitors, but also hygiene statements around the brand e.g., whether we have quality tv shows and what people associate with our brands. We just launched a programme and campaign tracker, which tracks among a bigger sample and looks at campaign and programme cut-through.”

“Data is only ever one part of the story. To predict future behaviour, it is really important to balance data with intuition for a brand to grow.”

Ingredients for growth

UKTV has always flourished in what they call mechanical growth, looking for opportunities to increase reach through new channel launches or changing their place on the EPGs (electronic programming guides). The other side is organic growth, increasing the commissioning of their own content and differentiating themselves from competitors. Sarah emphasises the importance of VOD growth for brands now and in the future, putting content to audiences when they want it and how they want it. Sarah: “In terms of broadcast, the two main ingredients for growth are trying to get new audiences in through communication and by launching new touchpoints, along with increasing frequency, that is the balance we have. If you only focus on the frequency you are going to end up with a small pool, so we are also looking at new opportunities, potentially with younger consumers who aren’t necessarily watching in the ways that older consumers are.”

Commissioning new content is a key part of UKTV’s growth: “If we are just acquiring content from other channels, it may not be exclusive. Commissioning helps us to look for content that audiences watch and we have editorial control over. Now that we are doing a lot more commissioning, audiences are beginning to recognise this. There is a lot of choice out there so you need something to pull people in.” UKTV noticed some impact due to the corona crisis, Sarah: “We had to be mindful as to what programming is cutting through and what our audience is doing. During the lockdown, we found that audiences were watching more nostalgic content. There have been some big changes and it will be interesting to see what is going to happen now.”

Working the data

Sarah shares that data is really important to UKTV: “It arms the decision-makers with information that is quantified and robust. It also taps into a learning culture where we can look back at our successes and errors. To me, data is only ever one part of the story. We have so many nuanced sources of insights, and to predict future behaviour, it is really important to balance data with intuition for a brand to grow. When we work with the commissioning team, we need to go beyond the numbers. If we only look at what is currently working, we are never going to make the next big show. Each team has their own expert experience which they bring into it as well.” Sarah shares how people’s capabilities to use the data is massively important: “You need to have the skills to marry up different data sources, bring in context, and use common sense. Especially in a creative environment such as broadcast, you need communication skills to tell stories with the data. We have quite visual stakeholders, so when we are presenting back data points we will supplement it with visual cues such as audience videos from focus groups, all those little elements help tell the story. As a team, we stay close to our audiences by doing focus groups and speaking to them. Then when we are looking at data sets, we are not just in our London or tv bubble, we’ve got viewers in mind.”

UKTV uses a lot of different data sources, from their brand tracker to more qualitative work such as semiotic analysis, neuroscience and focus groups: “Sometimes it is more about how we marry up all those different points. We can get what consumers are doing from the quantitative data, but we need the qualitative insights to say why they are doing it. When there are so many different parts to the puzzle it can be tricky. One of the challenges as broadcast has accelerated in terms of new launches and different platforms, is predicting the future.”

Data in a creative climate

Working in broadcast, the biggest challenge for Sarah is using data within a creative industry: “As an insights team, we need to create a culture where data isn’t seen as threatening. Data being limiting to creativity is a challenge in any creative environment. So, we need to work closely with the marketing and creative team when we present that data and acknowledge that it is only one part of the jigsaw, and that vision matters. It is a discussion, not a tick-box of yes or no.” Sarah says they have come a massive way in working together with the teams: “We have quite a good balance in there already, but it is something we are always going to be mindful of as we get more and more data. We also encourage stakeholders to use the data themselves. We just need to be aware that when people interpret data without insights commentary it can lead to diametric conclusions, but we don’t just want to be the gatekeepers. So, we keep dashboards simple and show enough data to allow and empower people to make the decisions they need to, but equally, there’s some data that we will need to push through the business and provide insights commentary.”

When thinking of future trends, Sarah’s interest lies in quantifying the qualitative data: “As the amount of data increases, so does the desire for there to be more qualitative information, but it is about balance. There are so many more methodologies and it opens the door to neuroscience and semiotic analysis. In terms of broadcast, things are changing so quickly so we need to stay on top of it. With new technologies comes a whole lot of new things to measure and track, and it will be interesting to see how that will play out a few years down the line.”