Networks take baby steps into data, and buyers shrug

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Upfront packages show promise but lack specificity and consistency, buyers say

Data, optimization and ROI were big themes at the 2015 Upfronts — just what the brands and agencies have been asking for. And while we’re still a long way from programmatic buying of linear TV, buyers say this year’s offerings are a step in the right direction.

A baby step, but still.

CBS talked up Campaign Performance Audit, introduced in March as a "data-driven initiative." For now, the offering is "a series of data sources that will help make an informed buy," said David Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS. "We are able to tell advertisers the performance of all television programs against their target markets." CBS is using this information during its Upfront negotiations. Then, at the end of a CBS TV campaign, the network will tell advertisers that campaign's ROI.

Turner Broadcasting System is developing Turner Data Cloud, a data-management platform to power both digital and linear advertising. It even used the P-word, saying advertisers and agencies can choose to transact directly and programmatically. Turner took its Targeting Now product out of beta in time for the Upfronts, and introduced Audience Now, which replaces demo guarantees with digital-type audience guarantees. It's also using ROI Now studies to show the effectiveness of selected TV campaigns.

NBCUniversal's Audience Targeting Platform promises to match set-top box data with first- and third-party data sources for targeting within "select categories."

The ability to provide data on more than a few top categories will be key, according to Lisa Herdman, senior vice president and director of national programming and branded entertainment at RPA. She points out that there's plenty of data on car buyers but little on, say, furniture buyers.

"This whole idea of programmatic TV," she said, "is contingent on data resources availability and the ability to take that data and match it to advertising."

Making the ROI pitch
Of course, these initiatives are a response to digital media's promise of greater measurability. Poltrack points out that many of today's buyers began their careers in the age of digital. "This whole generation of marketing executives has to be reassured about how effective this medium is," he said.

Indeed, "it's much more palatable for a client to put money into television when you have data to support it," said Melissa Keller, executive vice president of integrated investments at Havas Media North America. Media buyers know that TV is still effective, she says, but "you have to work harder to keep your share of the budget."

One big flaw in these offerings is that they work in walled gardens; audiences from one can't be identified elsewhere. "We need consistency," said Catherine Warburton, chief investment officer at Assembly. "If I'm buying for a client on two different networks, I want to be targeting the same people. If I have results from various different data sources, how do I know how a campaign is performing on one metric? That's the challenge."

Deal-making is all over the map, too. "There are a million nuances in how the pricing works," said Dave Campanelli, senior vice president for national broadcast at Horizon Media. Some nets want to charge a premium for the services; some set a high spending threshold to qualify; others are including it in their upfront pricing.

Ongoing optimization
At this stage of the TV-data game, the ability to change and optimize campaigns over the course of the year is probably more important than any individual network's ROI calculations. Campanelli has found that many networks are willing to accommodate a small group of advertisers by putting a percentage of the spending to be allocated later at some pre-defined interval. "The better ones, like Viacom, are willing to do it more frequently," he said, "but I understand the trepidation. It's an inventory management nightmare for them."

In some cases, broadcasters' dream of better data leading to better CPMS might actually come true, said RPA's Herdman. If the data shows, for example, that a potential furniture-buyer is watching a particular program, for the furniture advertiser, "all of a sudden that inventory is premium inventory," she said. On the other hand, some advertisers could find their audiences on less-expensive programming, thereby saving money.

This kind of data could be eye-opening for some clients, Keller said, by showing that target audiences are watching unexpected shows. "You don't just want a bunch of data," she said. "You want it to be smart and actionable, improve results and move the needle. Otherwise, you're just buying what you already know is a good show.

"You can be right, or you can learn something," she added.

In the short term, "there is not a single advertiser who's saying, 'This is amazing, this will transform everything,’" said Warburton. "We will have more information than in the past, and maybe it will push the needle a little bit."

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