Edinburgh media monitoring agency embarking on £800k research project

ONE of Scotland’s biggest media monitoring agencies has been awarded a major grant to develop technology that will help businesses filter the tidal wave of online information.

Press Data has provided media monitoring to businesses across the UK for almost 20 years and currently employs 45 staff in Edinburgh and London, working with 160 clients.

Now the company has launched an £800,000 research and development project in partnership with world-renowned experts in artificial intelligence at the University of Dundee.

Jerry Ward, managing director of Press Data, says the project is aimed at developing a hi-tech tool for major businesses and organisations to monitor and evaluate what is being said about them online.

He announced the exciting research project during an interview with the weekly media podcast, Quiet News Day, when asked if his firm intended to branch into the development of applications to help sort and filter online information.

He told QND hosts, Scott Douglas and Shaun Milne: “We’ve recently been awarded funding by a UK Government department, the Technology Strategy Board, who fund innovative companies to do technology development.

“We have teamed up with the University of Dundee and their artificial intelligence department and we’ve got £800,000 of funding to do a two-year project to develop exactly that kind of technology. It is very exciting. We’ve got some very brainy people working on it.”

However, he ruled out an iPhone-type app which customers could use on handheld devices and instead insisted the research team would be working on more complex solutions – though it will still be a product likely to attract interest all over the world.

He added: “I was talking to UK Trade and Invest, to their communications people about it and they said, actually, it is a global product. I’d probably go for a bit higher than an iPhone app, because selling it for 59p to a large commercial organisation would not be commercially viable.

“I think what you are looking at is building technology that sits on people’s computers and basically comes up with enhanced search and analytical work.”

The move is being driven by the phenomenal growth of online news sites, blogs and more recently social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

More than 90 per cent of Press Data’s work still focuses on traditional print and broadcast media, because those still carry more clout in the boardrooms of big business and public bodies. However, Jerry says the demand for online monitoring is growing and that a tipping point where it becomes more important than traditional forms of media is “inevitable”.

He admitted: “When I first started up in many ways it was a much easier job. Twenty years ago, there were really just print and a few broadcast outlets that you could use and it was a reasonably defined content set that you could work on.

“We are now working in a field where there is so much content out there it is impossible for anyone working in the communications industry to actually just get a grasp of what is going on.”

Media monitoring and evaluation has been a consistent growth sector over the past decade with the proliferation of print, broadcast and online news outlets. As well as chronicling the success and reach of PR and marketing campaigns, it is now seen as a vital tool for predicting likely trends.

Recent advances have been part of a scramble by the biggest names in the sector to develop technology which can make sense of the enormous amounts of information online – where most professional news organisations post content alongside that generated by bloggers and other members of the public.

The Technology Strategy Board, part of Lord Mandelson’s government Department for Business Innovation, confirmed it will provide £127,000 for the research.  It is one of nine R&D projects aimed at helping digital content creators and rights holders to maximise financial returns.

A further £220,000 is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), with Press Data and the University meeting the rest of the costs.