×

Networks Look to Sell Ads With a Personal Touch

After spending decades thinking big, TV executives are being asked to narrow their vision.

Madison Avenue is putting new pressure on networks to help find distinct clusters of audience, rather than merely barking out their ad pitches to the crowd at large, as has been standard practice. It’s a demand that threatens to redefine the economic foundation upon which TV has rested since the days of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Dragnet.”

The dynamic surfaced definitively last week, with word that both Viacom and Time Warner’s large Turner unit have begun talking to select advertisers about new deals that center less on the number of people who see the spots as measured by Nielsen, and more on whether consumers actually react to the commercials. Turner has offered certain advertisers the chance to establish guarantees, such as lifts in brand recognition or purchase intent, on four of the unit’s cable networks — Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Adult Swim and TruTV. The new guarantees would be made alongside traditional measurements, like Nielsen ratings. Viacom, meanwhile, has begun talks with potential sponsors about assessing how audiences engage with content or ads. The effort could potentially involve agreements regarding consumer activity related to social media.

“The trend toward more data, targeting and insight against investments in television and video is undeniable,” said Christopher Vollmer, leader of the global media and entertainment practice at consultant Strategy&. “Agencies and advertisers are asking for it.”

And programmers are dishing it up in spades. Scripps Networks Interactive is offering data that’s more granular, supplied by Nielsen’s Catalina Solutions unit, which can suggest what shows are most likely to draw potential buyers of, say, Greek yogurt. CBS has tapped Catalina Solutions to help marketers analyze which places on the network’s schedule are the best for particular ads. Earlier this year, NBCUniversal offered to use data from set-top boxes and other sources to identify the best inventory for specific advertising categories across the company’s cable and TV networks.

The new efforts surface as TV’s annual upfront market, when networks sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming cycle, is about to get under way. In recent years, the broadcast networks have collected fewer advance commitments for their primetime schedules, and in 2014, cable saw ad commitments fall for the first time in a number of years — all as marketers devote more energy to new venues like social media and mobile devices.

To be sure, TV still swings big. Many of the smallscreen’s truly outsized draws, like the Super Bowl and episodes of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” have demonstrated an ability to register increases in the size of the audience tuning in. But an irrevocable splintering in TV viewing has taken place, due to the rise of a dizzying number of new ways to consume video. One fan of, say, “Gotham” on Fox might watch the show via digital video recorder four days after it airs. Another might stream it a week later as part of a binge-watching session on a mobile tablet. And then there’s the crowd watching it live. The true audience for a particular program has become a hodgepodge of groups that consume it in very different ways.

As TV audiences fracture even more, marketers who frequent digital media have become accustomed to using IP addresses and Web-surfing behavior to gain a better sense of their viewers. And if such measurement tools are available now, the reasoning goes, there must be a better way to go after car buyers than simply running an automobile ad on “American Idol” and hoping enough of the audience is in the market for a new vehicle. With more TV programming being streamed, advertisers want to import to the boob tube — or whatever replaces it in the years to come — more of the precision they get from digital media.

The twist represents a reboot of sorts for TV advertising. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, advertisers sought — and got — a way to measure the broadest possible TV audiences. Relying on Nielsen tabulations of how many people tuned in to a show, and, later how many watched a commercial break, seemed to do the trick.

With those Nielsen measures dwindling, networks want to be judged on new criteria. Earlier this year, NBCUniversal’s CNBC announced that before 2015 was out, it would no longer use Nielsen measures for its daytime business-news programming. Advertisers would have to rely on new data that surveys the most intense viewers of the network.

The next challenge? With CNBC measuring its audience one way, Viacom another way and Turner yet another, advertisers may have too many yardsticks at their disposal, and no reliable unified metric to use as a comparison. Just as ad agency drama “Mad Men” is preparing to fade, so too are many of the industry’s old standbys.

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • iQIYI headquarters building in Beijing

    Chinese Streamer iQIYI Squeezed by Changing Content Context

    Chinese video streaming giant iQIYI saw its losses deepen, in the April to June second quarter of its financial year. The company grew subscriptions, but was hit by rising content costs and lower advertising revenue Its parent company, Chinese search leader, Baidu saw its year on year profits drop, though it recovered from loss in [...]

  • Plume of black smoke rising from

    Universal Music Says ‘Many’ Suing Artists’ Masters Were Not Damaged in 2008 Fire

    UPDATED: Late Friday the attorneys representing Soundgarden, Steve Earle and the estates of Tom Petty and Tupac amended their lawsuit against Universal Music Group over damages to their music archives as a result of a 2008 fire. While most of the amended complaint updated details in the original document — adding information about UMG’s alleged [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • Bob Bakish Joe Ianniello

    ViacomCBS Sets Board Members; Bob Bakish, Joe Ianniello New Deals Disclosed

    ViacomCBS has unveiled the 13 members of its board of directors and details of new employment contracts for president-CEO Bob Bakish and CBS chairman-CEO Joe Ianniello. The disclosure came Monday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, six days after Viacom and CBS at long last set an all-stock merger agreement valued at [...]

  • Spotify Announces Upgrades to Family Plan,

    Spotify Announces Upgrades to Family Plan, at No Charge in U.S. and U.K.

    Just days after reports emerged that Spotify is aiming to increase the price of its family plan in its home market of Scandinavia, the streaming giant announced an upgrade to the plan — with no price increase in the U.S. and U.K., where it remains at $14.99 and £15, respectively. A rep for the company [...]

  • Untold Stories Film Program

    Robert De Niro's Company Files $6 Million Suit Against Ex-Employee

    Robert De Niro’s company has filed a $6 million lawsuit against a former employee, accusing her of embezzling money and binge-watching Netflix while on the job. Canal Productions, De Niro’s loan-out company, also accuses Chase Robinson of racking up exorbitant hotel and restaurant charges and using millions of De Niro’s frequent flyer miles for her [...]

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST

    Jay-Z Gets Shade From Kaepernick, Support From Cardi B as NFL Fallout Continues

    UPDATED: If anyone expected the drama surrounding Jay-Z’s deal with the NFL to calm down over the weekend, they were mistaken, as controversy and conversation continued to swirl. The situation grew even more intense late Friday when TMZ reported that Jay is looking to acquire a majority interest in an unspecified NFL team, which would [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content