Agency, Media Execs Talk Data, OTT And The 2017 Upfronts

Agency, Media Execs Talk Data, OTT And The 2017 Upfronts

It doesn’t take a psychic to predict that the role of audience-based strategies and the data that drive those will be more in evidence than ever during this year’s fast-approaching television upfronts.

But what, specifically, do agency and media executives expect to happen in regard to so-called programmatic or advanced television deals this time around?

Though his remarks were focused on the agency of the future within the context of the industry’s outlook for the next several years, David Cohen, president, North America at Magna, made points that will certainly resound during upfronts time, in a keynote given at this week’s Gabbcon 2017 New York Audience-Based Buying Conference.

“There’s no doubt that audience-based buying is the way the business is going,” Cohen said in a keynote preview video. “For 60 years, we’ve been ruthlessly focused on context — ‘I need to be in a premiere or finale or this or that content.’ And while that’s still important, the world we live in today is far more data-rich, so understanding the right person in the right context is where the sweet spot is.”

Cohen also reiterated his belief, and Magna’s, that addressable is the future. “Where do we think that consumers’ eyeballs and attention spans are going? To OTT devices,” he said.

Which is why Magna last month announced a year-long  partnership with Roku — one of the few ad-supported OTT platforms, he said. The partnership will give Magna and its clients discounts for using the platform, and the ability to alpha and beta test ad products and formats and first-party data, among other things. Most important, it will provide special access to Roku’s user data and insights — data that will fuel Magna’s planning tools, Cohen stressed.

“One of the greatest challenges in the agency business is that from a strategy and planning perspective, the tools haven’t kept up with the speed with which consumers’ consumption habits are changing,” he said. “In budget allocation, for instance, OTT wasn’t a category 10 years ago, so we need to ingest some good data into our planning tools to allow us to allocate budgets accordingly — and the Roku relationship will allow us to do that.”

As Cohen pointed out, during last year’s upfronts, Magna shifted $250 million worth of client budgets out of linear television and into Google Preferred, which offers premium YouTube inventory. He also confirmed that Magna and its clients are very pleased with the results to date.

The new Roku deal appears to be another piece of Magna’s strategy to continue shifting formerly linear-pegged dollars into new platforms, and especially addressable media — and that seems bound to play a key role in this year’s upfronts, given its powerful client roster.

Data Will Drive 2017 Upfront PTV Discussions
Cohen’s keynote was followed by a panel devoted specifically to audience-based buying expectations for this year’s upfronts, moderated by Brendan Condon, president, AdMore and REVShare.

While neither agency nor media executives predicted a massive shift away from traditional TV buying practices, they did appear to agree that this year will see accelerated advancement in the ongoing transition.

And they certainly agreed that all things data are becoming central to media, agencies and clients alike. In fact, most of the panel discussion centered on the broader issues surrounding data and its uses in television and video platforms.

“We all know that [television advertising] is moving in the audience direction, and that data is the heart of that,” summed up Carl Fremont, global chief digital officer, MEC. “We talk about audience like it’s a new thing, but we’ve been practicing that for decades — in direct marketing, we have always reached audiences at scale using data.

What’s different today is the plethora of data available due to technology that’s allowing us to access it,” he added. “But it’s all about how you use that data and data intelligence. That’s where we’ve got to get smarter. And it’s not just for that single addressability or that one-time reach and saying we’ve done our job. It’s figuring out how we use the information to drive subsequent contacts with those audiences and using the content of the platforms as a mechanism to move somebody through a brand purchase decision. We’re moving toward using the infinite amount of data — first-, second- and third-party — and the intelligence we can get from it, to be both more precise and better at moving people through that purchase decision.”

“Data is paramount to everything that we do,” said Denise Colella, SVP, advanced advertising products and strategy, ad sales, NBCUniversal. “We have some of industry’s richest data resources, including Comcast set-top box data that provides us with a wealth of information about what people are watching and when. That allows us to help our advertisers reach people at the right time with the right content. We’re able to do that on various fronts — whether you’re trying to reach niche audiences or trying to work with a mass-reach program. So the data is advising everything we do on the front end to get to the right consumer. But we’re also looking at it on the back end so that we can make sure that we’re measuring it correctly and constantly optimizing the process.

“There’s new data all the time, and as TVs get smarter, and the feedback pattern gets richer, we’ll all be looking at what more we’re able to bring in,” Colello added. “What we’re seeing a lot more of in the past year is brands bringing their own data to the table. There’s been a huge increase in them saying, ‘I want you to help me to reach the people I know are my consumers.’”

“The data being brought to the table by clients has really materialized in the last year,” agreed Erica Schmidt, EVP, managing director, North America at Cadreon, IPG MediaBrands’ ad tech unit, adding: “Surprisingly, it’s come from CPGs, like the Hersheys of the world. These companies don’t really have a digital play, but they’re thinking very seriously about their data and their ownership of it. That’s being complemented by the financial services industry and other industries that you would anticipate would have bigger, richer data sets. But even they are really just getting their houses in order in this respect, and they’re looking for our guidance on how they can best leverage those assets.

“I think that the easiest translation point for that is the one-to-one — or one-to-household — addressability, in other words,” Schmidt said. “And device graphs are certainly helping us to get a much richer understanding of whether we’re really getting to the right households and on the right devices.

“We’ve used data sets in our advanced TV practice for a number of years,” she continued. “As [Magna’s Cohen noted in his keynote], we have app data sets that allow us to find content areas and consumption patterns that pop that wouldn’t normally pop. For instance, if we’re looking for harder-to-reach audiences or lighter TV viewers, we can use data sets to inform the way that we plan and purchase TV.”

However, Schmidt acknowledged, “I think we’re still in the very basic stages. It’s great to hear a lot of the traditional players now getting very serious about their data houses, but I think the standard currency is still age/gender if you’re in a CPG category. To go beyond that, we have to get the industry across the board to think differently not only about the planning but also the measurement of content, irrespective of channel.”

The progress in audience-based buying now isn’t necessarily about new data — rather, “I think we’ve gotten past the education point and people are more comfortable, so they’re saying ‘Let’s do a data match, let’s figure out a way to sync the data in an omnibus fashion to target the consumers who are truly consumers of this brand,” said Jason DeMarco, VP programmatic and audience solutions, A+E Networks. “I think we’ll also see a lot of partnerships evolve leading up to the upfront, where you have digital tech companies that have focused on smart TV viewership and have created device graphs that allow them to reach the same household across all devices. The goal, of course, is to tie those all back to TV viewership so as to bring real results back to the client.”

With six major cable networks, A&E couples various data licensing partnerships on the national footprint with its digital offerings and the addressability option, noted DeMarco. “We look at these as collaborative pieces,” he said. “Until addressability reaches the national TV landscape, we think it’s best to continue this approach, and use addressability with digital to extend the reach and continue to drive the message to the right people, whether it’s a targeted message or just reaching those viewers that aren’t viewing live linear but instead are consuming by OTT or Mogul or iPads and so forth.”

“We’ve always been selling people and audiences first,” stressed Hulu SVP, sales Peter Naylor, who noted that much of Hulu’s sales effort is educating buyers about this evolving platform, such as that 75% of viewing on the platform is on home TV screens. “When you sell data on top of our subscribers, everything becomes more interesting,” he noted. “[Magna’s Cohen] said that he wants to go beyond age and gender. And data allows us to do that. So since he’s willing to do it and we’re willing to do it, I don’t know why it shouldn’t be a bigger part of the [media buying] conversation.”

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