Viacom’s Philippe Dauman Talks New Metrics, Creative Tools and Wall Street’s ‘Short-Term-ism’

What keeps Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman awake at night? The thought of a teenage girl watching Nickelodeon on an iPad in her bedroom because that viewing is never captured by existing ratings measurement systems.

That kind of “leakage” is one of the challenges that Viacom aims to solve with a host of new measurement and metrics that it is offering to marketers in an effort to address the broad changes in viewer behavior and the needs of advertisers. Dauman outlined Viacom’s various initiatives during his keynote address Wednesday at Variety’s Big Data Summit at the InterContinental Hotel in Century City.

Dauman emphasized that current measurement shortcomings and the need to integrate new data tools into the content biz is an industry-wide concern.

“We have reached an inflection point,” Dauman said during his Q&A with Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein. “Everybody’s talking about the inadequacies of the current system. We’ve reached a point where the entire eco-system is moving very rapidly to rectify that.”

Dauman said Viacom has been focused on mining data from internal and external sources for many years, but the tools to analyze social media and online activity in the past year have advanced dramatically. The focus is on understanding how viewers engage with content and helping advertisers get more predictive tools to enable better targeting.

“There’s no single magic bullet but we are taking the right element from each of these data sources and putting it together in a way that is useable,” Dauman said. “It is very valuable to all concerned. It will lead to first-time monetazation of a lot of viewing of our shows that is taking place on unmeasured devices.”

If Viacom and other companies don’t get more proactive, viewing via tablet and other devices becomes “as if it did not happen,” he said.

Viacom has had rough ride on Wall Street of late as investors worry about linear ratings declines at its core networks — including MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and VH1 — and the long-term health of those brands. Dauman chalked up the jitters in the media sector to the general uncertainty in the air at a disruptive time in the TV biz. He emphasized that technology has historically benefited content companies by opening up markets for content.

“There’s a lot of short-term-ism out there,” he said of Viacom’s slumping stock price. “Technology brings opportunity. If you look through these moments (in history) content companies always end up in a better place. To quote (Viacom chairman) Sumner Redstone: content is king.”

Viacom’s investment in data has advanced the cause of offering addressable advertising options to advertisers — a capability that will be vastly expanded by the time of next year’s upfront, he said. “We have predictive algorithms that our marketers are wowed by,” he said. And he emphasized that these are savvy players with tools and databases of their own. “You cannot snow them,” he said.

The development of new metrics and advertising models through three core data-focused divisions — Viacom Vantage, Viacom Velocity and Viacom Echo — is a process of “knitting together” information sources that make sense for both buyer and seller. Viacom has cut a deal with DVR pioneer TiVo and works with measurement firm Rentrak to get access to set-top box data that is seen as the holy grail for granular consumer information. That information is married with Viacom’s internal data from online and VOD sources as well as its consumer products business.

“We have access to 30 million set-tops as part of our data mix and that’s going to grow,” he said.

Dauman noted that Viacom is increasingly looking to global markets for growth and trying to innovate in its production and delivery of content.

In parts of Africa, for example, smartphones are becoming so cheap and ubiquitous that Viacom is “skipping the television side” and creating targeted original content for mobile platforms, he said.

Comedy Central is experimenting with all manner of new content formats, including a series of 10-second episodes produced for Snapchat. Viacom is investing big in mobile video by building what Dauman called a state-of-the-art production facility near the Paramount lot in Hollywood.

“This is the most exciting creative time to be working in the three decades that I’ve been involved with Viacom,” he said.

And for sure, Viacom’s push to expand its data-harvesting activities is influencing not just the sales side of the operation but also its creative efforts.

Nickelodeon recently announced plans for a channel to be dubbed Splat, which will showcase vintage 1990s Nick series. That came from analytics-driven understanding that there was an opportunity for Nickelodeon to target millennial viewers who are feeling nostalgic for the shows they grew up watching on Nick.

MTV is reviving “Celebrity Death Match” franchise after data determined that the property still has a lot of buzz with key target viewers.

“Data helps you make more intelligent decisions,” Dauman said. “Having great creative instincts remains at the core of what we’re doing. Data is just another tool that we’re going to use.”

Among other topics the Viacom chief touched on during the 30-minute Q&A:

  • Data also helps Paramount Pictures better tracking more predictive algorithms better target its marketing expenditures for movies. “We’re a big buyer of advertising too,” he said.
  • Dauman was reserved in his criticism of Nielsen while discussing the shortcomings with TV’s current measurement systems. “Nielsen needs to move forward and take advantage of the technology,” he said. But he added that Viacom is working closely with Nielsen to “complement” their ratings. “We’re going in to marketers with Nielsen data supplemented by our predictive tools,” he said.
  • Dauman said he’s encouraged by the pending merger of measurement firms Rentrak and ComScore. “Competition is a wonderful thing,” he said. The combination of the firms “will lead to great innovation in the industry which will help the entire eco-system.”

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