Fox Ready to Do TV Ad Deals Without Traditional Nielsen Guarantees

Fox is joining the parade of TV companies testing the market to see if Madison Avenue is ready to do some deals without relying on that old standby, TV-audience measurement from Nielsen,

The Fox Networks unit of 21st Century Fox, which operates Fox Broadcasting, Fox Sports 1 and FX, among other TV properties, will offer its advertisers the chance to do deals based on how many members of a specific kind of consumer it can reach, said Toby Byrne, president of ad sales for Fox Networks Group, said in an interview. “We are open to doing business in new ways. That’s really the bottom line,” Byrne said. “We will keep pushing forward and delivering opportunities that are meaningful to our clients and that deliver value.”

Fox’s offer surfaces just weeks before the start of TV’s upfront market, where U.S. TV networks hope to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming season. Many advertisers have in the last few years tried to make use of the reams of consumer data collected via digital means – everything from TV-channel selection and customer-loyalty card information – to place ads more precisely according to geography and purchase. One advertiser may want to schedule ads in shows more likely to reach potential buyers of luxury cars, while another may be more interested in getting a message in front of consumers with a predilection for fast food.

If TV networks can help carve out these more narrowly defined crowds, so the theory goes, they might be able to charge a premium for their services, even as they face growing competition for ad dollars from streaming-video sites and mobile operators, among others.

Under the Fox plan, the company will offer data that helps advertisers identify TV shows most likely to attract a particular audience segment, and then offer a guarantee of how many of those exact consumers the precisely scheduled commercials will reach.

“Advertisers will be able to identify and buy against audience segments ranging from movie goers to luxury car buyers to first time car buyers to frequent fast food customers,” Byrne said. To be certain, the company will also sell advertising in more traditional fashion, in deals backed by Nielsen, and will make use of other data products from the media-measurement giant to create its new metrics and agreements.

Fox is not the first to make such outreach. Time Warner’s Turner, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Viacom last year began offering guarantees of reach of narrowly defined audience segments. While the ideas play into what chief marketing officers say they want, there is still a huge desire for the bigger, more diverse crowds TV lures, and Fox is likely eager to see what reaction its new offers generate before moving more deeply into new terrain.

Fox also plans to offer some of its cable-TV ad inventory for so-called “programmatic” buying, which allows purchases to be made in automated fashion according to pre-defined parameters. The company has sold its digital ad inventory in such a fashion, but not traditional TV commercials.

Ads on Fox Broadcasting and in sports programming on Fox Broadcasting are not part of the initial offer. Unlike other networks, Fox Broadcasting typically includes just 15 hours of primetime programming per week, along with some sports broadcasts, and Fox is expected to try to keep a full supply of that ad inventory at the ready.

TV networks have long fretted about the advent of programmatic ad sales, which are more predominant online. The concern is that the automated process will result in TV time being sold for the lowest possible cost, but Fox is taking steps to avoid such results, like selling the time as part of a  private, closed marketplace over which it has control.  NBCUniversal last month said it would make some of its inventory available for programmatic buying.

Fox has since last year demonstrated a willingness to experiment with new advertising formats and concepts. In late 2014, the company announced its intention to buy TrueX, a technology company that develops advertising concepts and formats for on-demand video, for a price said to be around $200 million.

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