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NBCU Will Join ‘Open A.P.’ Audience-Targeting Venture Run by Turner, Fox, Viacom

More than a year after launching a new alliance aimed at boosting Madison Avenue’s ability to carve out audience niches in a manner similar to what is available online, the backers of the system have landed another teammate.

NBCUniversal will join “Open A.P.,”  a platform offered by a consortium of media companies: Time Warner’s Turner; Viacom; and 21st Century Fox’s Fox Networks Group. The offering, which uses data from such providers as comScore and Nielsen and is operated and monitored by Accenture, allows advertisers to use a standard group of data sets when trying to define narrower segments of consumers, such as first-time car buyers, expectant mothers or avid moviegoers. Armed with reams of data about customer choice, viewer behavior and digital presence, Madison Avenue has grown more enchanted with “audience buying” deals that some blue-chip advertisers find more meaningful than the traditional parameters, which largely have to do with age and gender.

The Comcast-owned media conglomerate “took a wait-and-see attitude when this consortium was originally created,” said Krishan Bhatia, executive vice president of business operations and strategy at NBCUniversal, in an interview, but taking part now will help the industry start “coalescing around a scalable way of doing business.”  NBCUniversal will join the board of “Open A.P.,” he said.

Under terms of the deal, NBCUniversal will license  a proprietary data set of audience attributes that will aid in an advertiser’s ability to hone in on certain swaths of audience. The company will also license technology that supports the matching of data with audience, as well as Comcast TV-viewing data that will aid in determining how specific flights of commercials might be placed for best effect. The NBCU contributions will help build upon the data sets already available to clients who use “Open A.P.”

“With NBCUniversal aligning with the consortium, we are all accelerating the industry’s efforts in providing more premium scale to drive greater adoption of advanced audience targeting, while laying the groundwork for future innovation,” said  Joe Marchese, Fox’s president of ad revenue; Donna Speciale , Turner’s president of ad sales; and Sean Moran, Viacom’s head of marketing and partner solutions, in a joint statement.

The companies’ ability to come together – albeit slowly – may prove crucial to the industry’s future. As audiences splinter around a growing number of video opportunities, the media industry is having a tough time keeping up with measuring viewership and charging for it. If the sector can’t devise a single methodology for counting the consumers viewing its content, it risks further fragmentation – a difficult thing to explain to national advertisers looking for seamless ways to reach their customers.

In the world of TV ad sales, such alliances are rare. The media companies typically try to sell their own ad inventory with proprietary methods, rather than joining together to goose each other’s work. At a time when TV networks are seeing ad dollars migrate to new forms of streaming video, however, they need to emulate the attributes that have attracted the hands that loosen Madison Avenue’s purse-strings.

Each company will continue to sell its own commercial time and space, but the wider participation in the “Open A.P.” technology means advertisers will be able to use defined sets of audience that apply across a greater section of the industry. The companies said their portfolios represent  50% of total TV inventory across national broadcast and cable entertainment.

Other media companies may be sniffing around “Open A.P.” CBS Corp., for instance, continues to discuss partnership opportunities with the alliance as well as other advanced advertising providers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

One sticking point for some media companies is the cost of taking part. Whether a company wishes to join the “Open A.P.” board or just take part in a less significant fashion, the price of membership is said to be significant.

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