Viacom pushes back on digital video with data of its own

For years, digital platforms and publishers have been gunning for mass-market budgets, using data as their trump card. Digital sellers argued that TV, with its cultural dominance and millions of loyal viewers, was no match for data-first tactics like 1:1 targeting or rewarding click through rates.

TV still crushes native digital video in terms of viewership, but the market has moved on from the clunky age and gender demos of our media forefathers. TV is innovating with a data-first approach and networks are embracing new ways to better measure its impact, target audiences and deliver ROI.

Television is the most powerful medium for marketers and data further amplifies its reach and engagement capabilities, a point that Viacom’s Kern Schireson, executive vice president of data strategy and consumer intelligence made at an April panel at the Paley Center. “We made a determination to move beyond [traditional measures], to produce great content that resonates with our audience and build on it. And if it’s not showing up in the numbers, then we find a way to measure it ourselves,” said Schireson.

We followed up with Schireson to determine how Viacom is using existing data to compete with digital video upstarts and drawing on new data sets to lay out why 12-episode arcs are more valuable than the shotgun delivery style of native digital video.

Digital buyers are pushing for more data. How has that transformed how television is sold?
At the time I came on board in 2010, there were a lot of conversations around data and the potential for better measurement, better targeting, more accurate attribution, more accurate understanding of the impact of television, but it felt theoretical. Over the last five years, we’ve moved out of the theoretical and into a place where all of those data sets and all of those models are out in the marketplace.

We’re kind of at a tipping point right now. Two years ago, we lived in the realm of experimental budgets and innovation budgets. This year and going forward there is a more serious focus on bringing this into the meaty part of the bell curve. Instead of 5 and 10 percent of budgets, agencies on the progressive side are saying ‘Let’s see if we can look at this, if not all, then for the most part, through the lens of data.’

What kind of data are we talking about here? Can buyers expect television to compete on a 1:1 marketing level with digital marketing?
On our primary set of screens, those that are connected to set top box, we’re not going to deliver 1:1, we’re going to deliver one to many. That said, we’ve done our homework and have decoded the patterns that play out across all of our channels, all of our day parts and all of our programs. And it turns out you can find certain programs that index two or three times as high for a specific consumer target.

Historically, we’ve enabled the transaction through the lowest common denominator—age and demo. But now, we can bring together first party data on 60 percent of U.S. households and match that against set top boxes, a pretty substantial mobile footprint, a huge number of web browsers and a vast array of syndicated data sets. Viacom Vantage, is our data driven advertising solution that gives advertisers the ability to reach custom audiences across our networks. Our insights are predictive moving beyond traditional age and gender demographics. We can now look at behavioral indicators to see who’s ready and willing to purchase a truck for instance.

But digital still has the 1:1 edge. What is television’s trump card?
Context. There is an industry-wide push for data and a demand for precision targeting because quality and context matter.

We’re seeing more and more pushback in the marketing community, vis à vis some of the lower quality impressions out there. Digital might have scale, and they might even be able to claim an audience targeting mechanism, but they’re losing too much to viewability, they’re losing too much to robotic impressions or they’re losing too much to the actual video or editorial content that it’s showing up in. We’ve heard about one advertiser that had bought some pre-roll that showed up next to an ISIS video. That’s not the kind of context that any advertiser wants.

That’s the place TV has always been strong and TV will always be strong.

That’s sort of been the cable model from the start. What’s different here?
Both the Internet and the evolution of television have really changed the game for content. There is a lot more programming out there than there ever was before and a lot more places for people to go and find it. But there’s also a lot more connective tissue between communities for people to find each other when they’re enjoying the same kinds of things and feel passionate about those things. And that tends to amplify experiences. And fandom breeds fandom.

We’ve done a lot of work around decoding what fandom looks like culturally and within in the social space and then use those insights to help us define when we’re hitting the mark. We track and measure the engagement.

Our fans don’t just watch our content, they deeply engage with it, share and live it.

Umm… live it?
There are thousands of people with SpongeBob tattoos, for example. These manifestations are things that we look for. We know our content is resonating and moving the cultural needle because we track and measure the engagement. Just look at Key & Peele sketches – they’ve generated over 1 billion views on YouTube and counting.

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