Data That Matters – MTV

Data is everywhere. Big data, ambient data, real-time, benchmarking – there’s so much that there’s no one metric or one way of using it that works for every company or every industry. The data leaders are the ones who take risks, who look at all the information available and decide what matters right now. We’re spotlighting these innovators in this “Data that Matters” blog series. We’re talking to people in various roles across multiple industries to see how they collect, make sense of, and act on their data. Read the full series.

Jonathan in action in the MTV newsroom

We’re kicking things off with the data smarts of Jonathan Goldner, senior director, News Content, Operations & Distribution at MTV News. Jonathan gives his take on data as knowledge, getting away from the gut-and anecdotal-driven decisions to know more, and know right.

My big data takeaway is this: there are people I find who are open and receptive to all the data, and making decisions blended with their own expertise and judgment, and there are people who aren’t.

I prefer to think, let’s not think we know; let’s know we know. 

People want to ask the robot: “tell me what to do,” but I don’t think that’s what you should want. What you should want is to balance your own brand principles with the data you can work with, and allow it to be the continual surprise it will always be.

In that way, data isn’t threatening, it’s empowering.

It’s not a loss of expertise, but an elevated perspective of that expertise.

It helps us avoid the content people don’t want and lets us focus on what people do want.

Many years ago, we were told not to worry about the data. We’d be given a few anecdotal pieces here or there, but overall, we knew basically nothing about what those anecdotal pieces even meant.

I remember the day I first logged into Omniture, and much like the first hit, I wanted more. I started to dig for information, and found out a lot of cool stuff.

Two people from Kazakhstan read my article, that’s actionable data!  Seriously!

Data influences what you cover and why you need to.

Like at first, 12 years ago  we had a serious discussion about covering American Idol. Everyone thought: that’s a contest, not real music. The first season, we did an article on the winner, but that was it.

But, as the seasons wore on, we felt the pop culture imperative, and decided we kind of had to cover it. It’s still a major ratings winner, and it does business for us. We owed it to our audience to deliver them what they’re watching, reading.

And we learned a ton about our audience from covering it. What was so weird about the American Idol traffic is that most of it was search traffic.

I will say that, anecdotally, I can infer that search means new users and social or internal often means loyal, but I don’t know the exact breakdowns off the top of my head.

Of course search and new visitors aren’t the only thing that matter. Everything matters. Like the home page, obviously. How the home page works and flows and its dynamism are important. And we learned a lot about the home page design, too.

We don’t need 75 links on the home page; we only really need some relevant 10 or 20. 

For us, that’s more challenging than you might think. There’s no site that does everything that does from music videos to shows, editorial, video games, and a whole bunch of other things.

So deciding which 10-20 links are relevant is a huge challenge. Everyone is looking for the one ring to rule them all.

We look to data to guide the home page design, the content for articles, the search audience, you name it. Data guides where our brand is going.

We’ll be covering a new company each week – big & small, media & not, data junkies & analytics allergic – so let us know if there’s someone you want to see featured. Hit me up at

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