TV’s Top Marketing Execs Break Down the Power of Data at Variety’s Massive Summit

Marketing executives from some of television’s top brands shared how they use the wealth of data at their fingertips to influence viewing at the Variety Massive Summit presented by Deloitte in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

With the rise of streaming has come a whole new wave of data analytics, getting into the most minute of the minutiae of viewing habits.

“For a long time, we had very little access to data. It belonged to the distributors,” Showtime’s chief marketing officer Don Buckley told Debra Birnbaum, Variety‘s executive editor of television. “Since we launched our streaming product in 2015, we’re much better equipped with data and have built out the systems required to analyze and activate any conclusions we reach based on the data. It’s a great base. It’s many, many millions of people. Their viewing behavior becomes a prototype for the rest of the network for whom we don’t have data.”

The trick, according to Hulu’s chief marketing officer Kelly Campbell, is to winnow it down to what data is the most useful.

“One of the things we try to pull from that data is viewing patterns that are actionable, because there’s so much data you can kind of get to data overload,” Campbell said. “That’s the challenge and the opportunity. Viewing patterns have been incredibly interesting to us. You find things that you might not expect.”

Specifically, Campbell spoke about the phenomenon of “palette cleansing,” wherein viewers will often follow up episodes of a serious drama like “The Handmaid’s Tale” with a comedy like “Family Guy.”

Molly Battin, EVP and global chief communications and corporate marketing officer for Turner, echoed the sentiment in saying that networks have to find ways to use data most effectively.

“We talk a lot about being data-informed, not data-driven, and how do we make sure we’re leveraging the data we have?” Battin said. “We always want more and we want to use that to be as smart and as targeted as we can, especially when we’re trying to drive new audiences to our networks.”

Yet in the age of binge-watching, getting viewers to tune in the night a weekly show debuts is still a major part of the equation for linear channels.

“More and more, we’re trying to do event programming, so creating shows that have the viewership to drive that live viewing, not just Live+Same Day,” said Jacqueline Parkes, chief marketing officer for MTV, VH1, and Logo. “That’s so important to us. We look at the percentage that are actually watching in the moment and we try to hit a benchmark of at least 80%.”

One show Parkes called out in particular was “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which had its best season ever in Season 9, with Season 10 set to launch this Thursday. The network counts on shows like “Drag Race” to drive not only viewership, but engagement on social media as well.

Social media can prove to be a double-edged sword, however, as evidenced by the recent controversy surrounding the unauthorized use of Facebook user data by the U.K.-based firm Cambridge Analytica. Darren Schillace, EVP of marketing for Fox Broadcasting, says that platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are key partners nowadays, but still must be held accountable if need be.

“They’re great partners and we figure it out,” Schillace said. “We kind of need each other in many ways. Sometimes the headline is maybe a little worse than the reality and it’s a matter of getting the full picture. But if something becomes counter to our business or our ethics, then we have a problem.”

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