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Can Guy Fieri Sell Greek Yogurt? Scripps Taps Data To Boost ‘Upfront’ Sales

Guy Fieri
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Scripps Networks wants to push TV advertisers get beyond the traditional ad-sales process, helping instead to identify which audiences of which specific programs are more likely to buy particular products.

As part of its pitch for TV’s coming upfront market, the operator of Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel will offer sponsors more granular data from the Nielsen Catalina Solutions unit of Nielsen that can suggest what shows are most likely to draw potential buyers of, say, Greek yogurt (the answer: Food Network’s weekend-morning lineup, which includes “Guy’s Big Bite” on Sundays). The research draws upon viewing patterns found in set-top box data as well as purchase patterns spotlighted by loyalty cards from various retailers. The data will let Scripps make better recommendations to advertisers about which of its programs will serve them best, said Jon Steinlauf, president of national ad sales at Scripps, in an interview held at the company’s New York offices.

Madison Avenue has for decades looked to TV to provide the greatest number of viewers in a single swoop. Now, with audiences splintered by the rise of new viewing behaviors tied to streaming video and mobile devices, they are not always pressing for the most viewers but the most of a particularly kind of couch potato, whether that be a first-time car buyer or a person more likely to purchase a bag of nuts.

“TV has to answer the data question and it has pushed us to be more aggressive in our positioning,” said Steinlauf.

Scripps is among the first this year to nod publicly to a new wrinkle in the annual upfront, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming season. Ad buyers and TV executives interviewed in recent weeks both acknowledged the underlying argument in the 2015 haggle will focus on an exchange of data for advertising commitments. TV companies that can make consumer data available to marketers seeking a particular set of customers are likely to capture a greater share of advertising commitments, these executives said.

NBCUniversal in January unveiled a new service for advertisers it called an “Audience Targeting Platform” that uses set-top box data and other sources to identify the best ad space for certain categories of advertisers.

“There is a growing and deafening demand and push for more insight as it relates to television investment,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships at NBCU, in January.

The sales executives likely won’t suggest the idea in public, but many media outlets hope their efforts to carve out expectant mothers, teenage soda drinkers, seekers of retirement planning and the like will help them command higher prices from potential sponsors and even sell a greater share of ad inventory than if they simply sold in more traditional fashion.

For its part, Scripps thinks its offering will result in “more brands buying shows as opposed to parent companies buying networks and dayparts,” said Steinlauf. In other words, where advertisers once used TV in a blunter manner, lobbing ads across TV-network schedules to blast messages to the masses, they are likely in some cases to attempt to be more precise.

Other offerings will be at play. Scripps will offer a “roadblock” to advertisers that would allow them to run a commercial across multiple Scripps networks, all at the same time. The initiative would let the sponsor get a message in front of a large number of upscale female viewers who watch Food Network, HGTV, DIY and other outlets owned by the company.