Discovery Buys Minority Stake in Open AP in Bid To Gain Say in Audience Measurement

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Cheyne Gateley for Variety

After making a successful bid to grow its heft in the media business with the looming acquisition of WarnerMedia, Discovery wants to extend its influence in the world of audience measurement and data.

Discovery will become a minority owner of Open AP, a company that is working to define segments of video audiences and help advertisers buy commercial inventory in new ways that are more precise than methods utilized in the era when watching TV wasn’t rooted in digital technology. Discovery, which is expected to take over management of WarnerMedia from AT&T in months to come, joins Fox Corp., ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal as owners in the joint venture.

“We’ve been working with OpenAP for a number of years and as we double down on our advanced advertising capabilities, we feel that now is the perfect time to increase our commitment to the work that they are doing,” says Jim Keller, executive vice president of digital ad sales and advanced advertising at Discovery.  “OpenAP is driving the advanced advertising market further and faster towards cross-platform targeting, measurement and audience reach. This investment puts Discovery in a position to be a part of this much-needed innovation.”

Discovery’s investment speaks to the increasing desire media companies have for more oversight of the data used to define billions of dollars in advertising deals they make each year. For decades, the companies have relied on an outside arbiter, Nielsen, to count overall viewership of TV programming, and break it down along lines of age and gender. With more consumers utilizing a digital interface to watch their favorite series and live events, however, Madison Avenue is making wide use of new data about geographic location, product preferences, and, sometimes, even the likelihood of a purchase. And the TV networks have begun to distance themselves from Nielsen, even as it continues to provide the bulk of information about their audiences.

Discovery CEO David Zaslav has not been shy about looking to the future when it comes to the data he thinks advertisers ought to use. “You’re dealing with a very antiquated delivery system. We’ve all learned how to get along with it,” he told investors and analyst during an earnings call in August, adding: “I don’t have a lot of hope for Nielsen. Somehow, as an industry, we’re just going to have to work our way out of it, from a technology perspective, and leave them in the dust.”

Nielsen, for its part, has acknowledged a need to move more quickly. The company Is working with Disney and Interpublic Group, among other entities, in a bid to extend its measurement efforts to count viewership across linear TV, connected TV and digital screens and is also overhauling its “commercial ratings,” the bedrock of many deals between TV networks and their sponsors.

Since launching in 2017 under the auspices of WarnerMedia’s Turner, the former Viacom Inc. and the Fox Networks Group of the former 21st Century Fox, Open AP has tried to facilitate the increasingly common practice of “audience buying” among advertisers. By helping advertisers reach certain consumer categories that remain the same no matter which company’s inventory is being purchased, Open AP gives marketers the chance to create benchmarks that can be more easily compared.

The company has expanded its efforts in recent months. In December, it launched XPm, a new framework that will let advertisers and media outlets count viewership across venues that might include linear TV, addressable TV and mobile-delivered video — providing a consumer count that can be utilized no matter what type of video delivery on which an advertiser is focused. Interestingly, Nielsen is one of the measurement companies that helps XPm work.

“The last two years have demonstrated the force of change that can happen when we take an audience-first approach to reimagining TV advertising for media owners, advertisers and consumers alike,” said David Levy, CEO of OpenAP. “We are grateful for the increased commitment Discovery is making to work alongside us on this journey of propelling further growth of the marketplace.”

OpenAP projects its systems will accommodate $500 million in advertising sales in its fiscal year 2022, marking growth of 140%. The company works with more than 100 advertisers direct their commercials to national TV audiences, no matter the platform they use to access programming .

With its investment, Discovery paves the way for WarnerMedia to once again have a say in Open AP’s affairs. In 2019, WarnerMedia pulled out of the company, as its parent, AT&T, had bet on its own in-house ad-tech unit, Xandr. AT&T recently decided to sell that company to Microsoft.