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Viacom to Track Emotional Responses to Social Ads, Content

Media conglomerate taps startup Canvs, which segments user comments into 56 emotion-based categories

For years, media companies have been trying to assess the reaction to their content and advertising among social-media users in a quantitative way. But they’ve been frustrated with the limited capabilities of “sentiment analysis” tools that capture only general positive or negative attitudes — with questionable accuracy.

Now Viacom thinks it’s finally found a buzz-monitoring tool for social chatter that’s “on fleek.” The media conglomerate’s Velocity integrated marketing and creative content arm has teamed with technology startup Canvs, which categorizes social-media comments into 56 emotional categories and uses a dictionary of 4 million words and phrases keyed into millennial slang and social-media shorthand.

“One component that we didn’t have fully fleshed out was sentiment — we knew it was fraught with a lot of issues; it’s a hard thing to analyze,” said Lydia Daly, VP of Viacom Velocity. “It’s as much an art as a science.”

After testing the Canvs system for several months, starting with the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, Viacom is now updating its Echo Social Graph product to include Canvs’ emotional analysis to deliver real-time insights to marketing partners about the consumer impact of their campaigns across five platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube and Instagram. “The test has proven to us that this works, down to the exact tweet,” Daly said.

The project is part of Viacom’s overall efforts to tap into data and analytics to better adapt to changing viewing habits.

Canvs’ database accounts for deliberate misspellings and jargon such as “bae” and “on fleek” (favorable expressions), and can interpret words that have double meanings, such as “sick.” The 56 Canvs categories are nuanced, with categories including “trippy,” “awkward,” “boring,” “enough said,” “goosebumps,” “guilty pleasure,” and “mindblown.” According to Canvs founder and CEO Jared Feldman, the startup’s tool can find “love” expressed in 30,000 different ways on social media.

“We have the first accurate measure of how people are feeling online,” Feldman said. “Traditional sentiment analysis of good/bad/indifferent doesn’t adhere to emotional constructs. We are trying to capture a wider range of emotions, and what we found was there needs to be a human involved in the (analysis) process at some point.”

Canvs has about 30 customers, including Sony Pictures Television, StarcomMediaVest Group, NBCUniversal, CAA and UTA. The New York-based company, formed in mid-2014, last week announced that it had closed $5.6 million in Series A financing round led by KEC Ventures with participation from Rubicon Ventures, Gary Vaynerchuk and BRaVe Ventures, Social Starts and Milestone Venture Partners.

Canvs receives its Twitter data from Nielsen, which captures tweets about TV programs three hours before, during and three hours after an episode’s initial broadcast. Nielsen also has formed a partnership with Facebook to track social data about TV shows.

Viacom will share details on the Canvs partnership at Viacom Velocity’s third annual roadshow for clients and brands starting this week in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. “Every advertiser ever wants to know if their ads are resonating with consumers,” Feldman said.

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