TV Networks Hope to Offer ‘Attribution’ Ad Plans in 2018 Upfront Market

Will advertisers pay more when their TV commercials send a couch potato bouncing out of a living room to a car dealership or retail outlet? Some of the nation’s biggest TV networks say they want to find out.

Discovery Communications, Fox News, A + E Networks, AMC Networks, CBS Corp.,  and Disney ABC Television are among the media companies pursuing a trial early next year of new technology that seeks to tie exposure to video ads to an actual customer action, like visiting a marketer’s web site or taking a test drive of a new car.

The new system “would just show the credit that premium video deserves,” said Ben Price, president of national advertising sales at Discovery Communications, in an interview. “We will do a test in the first quarter and, hopefully, we will be able to offer something in the upfront,” the annual market when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming season.

The networks are using technology from a company called Data Plus Math that maps out the effects of various forms of video on sales of product. This so-called focus on “attribution” and “outcomes” – tracing exposure of a commercial to an actual sale – is at the heart of a project that has been code-named “Thor.”

It is something advertisers have long said they need proof their many 6-, 15-, 30- and 60-second commercials result in tangible purchases.  “I want to measure how many people come into the restaurant” because of advertising, said Bob Rupczynski, McDonalds’ global vice president of media and customer relations, during a recent meeting with media executives and ad buyers convened by NBCUniversal. Other measures, he told the audience, have less value to him.

The effort could prove to be critical. As the linear TV audience has dispersed among streaming video, DVR playback and many other methods of consumption, the industry is struggling to count viewers in a way advertisers will support. Despite the rise of mobile tablets and subscription video on demand, most TV networks continue to derive the bulk of their ad revenue based on the number of linear viewers their TV shows attract.  Linking ad exposure to a purchase or response could give TV networks reason to seek premiums from sponsors, said several of the executives involved in the new effort.

“We are looking at the way to get some of the credit that TV rightly deserves for brand awareness,” said Mel Berning, president and chief revenue officer of A+E Networks, in an interview. “When they take dollars and ads off TV, the phone stops ringing and the cash register stops banging.”

Over the next few months, the networks will start to analyze “attribution,” or measure the impact of video advertising for a range of sponsors. The hope is that the various networks will all be able to strike their own deals using the Data Plus Math technology, while all working within the same set of parameters. Data Plus Math uses information culled from millions of set-top boxes, smart TVs and OTT platforms and machine learning techniques to  determine a connection between exposure to ads from different screens to actual sales or actions. The company is backed by Comcast Ventures and Greycroft Partners.

CBS is having follow-up meetings with Data Plus Math, according to a person familiar with the matter, as well as other companies involved in mapping “attribution.” CBS already offers similar attribution analysis through customized research overseen by its chief research officer, David Poltrack, and intends to continue to offer it to agencies and clients, this person said..

Others think the “Thor” efforts will bear new fruit. “We know that advertising on our networks builds brands and results in buying decisions, in many cases far more effectively than other forms of advertising,” said Scott Collins, president of ad sales at AMC Networks. “ So we are pleased to participate in this effort to use technology to demonstrate in clear and direct terms the value of the impressions we deliver across our five popular and well-defined networks in a dynamic and competitive marketplace.”

The “Thor” effort is taking place under the auspices of the Video Advertising Bureau, a trade organization for the TV industry.

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