Verance Keeps Westwood One and Court TV on Track

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NEW YORK ( -- Talk to Steve Saslow, vice chairman of Verance, and he’s more likely to tell you what his company is not: “We’re not the media cops, we’re not the auditors,” he likes to say. Instead, he says, Verance and its broadcast verification arm, ConfirMedia, is solving the “oldest problem I have known in the 30 years I’ve been in the broadcast business.”

That problem is campaign reconciliation -- determining which ads didn’t run according to schedule and, in real time, identifying and fixing the problem. And thanks to an increased emphasis on accountability, the company is on a roll. In the past two weeks Verance signed up the largest radio network, Westwood One, and its first TV client, Court TV. Other radio networks using the service include the Clear Channel-owned Premiere Radio Network and Dial-Global.

'Digital watermark'
The technology is fairly straightforward. Agencies encode the ads they send to networks with a digital watermark that’s inaudible to the human ear but can be picked up by Verance, which monitors stations to verify where and when the ad ran. While most broadcast verification give agencies all the data about what ads ran at what times on what stations, Verance only tells them when ads didn’t run according to schedule.

Court TV, for example, is feeding Verance all of its ordering information so it can match up the network’s invoices with buyers and clients schedules. “This is something we already did, but manually,” said Debbie Reichig, senior VP-sales strategy. “It took a month or two months before people could reconcile discrepancies but now we can do it on a daily basis.”

Sound like the media cops? Mr. Saslow is the first to admit such services made a few mistakes when they entered the market, going directly to clients to expose inaccuracies and inconsistencies in a campaign’s flight -- which angered media agencies, who traditionally haven’t welcomed third parties coming between them and their clients.

Allowing for a redo
When Mr. Saslow came to Verance two years ago, he said “the broadcaster side gave me the opportunity to hit the reset button.” But a lot has changed in two years. More agencies report into a client’s procurement department than ever before and staffing at the agency level has become tight. Gone are the days when an agency could float the margins or take its time paying for media. And networks are more concerned than ever about clearing invoices to get paid more quickly.

In addition to convincing broadcasters to sign onto the service, Mr. Saslow had to get media agencies to encode the ads.

“The next step is getting the broadcasters and agency buyers to sit down and agree on how they’re going to use those tools,” he said. “In doing what we’ve done, we are creating not only a business but an industry.”

“For these nets to work together on moving accountability forward is a great step,” said Natalie Swed Stone, U.S. director of national radio, OMD. “When one of them lags, it holds back the whole medium.” Now, she said, the next step is figuring out how long networks can take to figure out why a spot didn’t run and remedy it.

“Have we figured out what is an acceptable level of compliance? Not yet,” Ms. Swed Stone said. For certain advertisers, such as retailers or movie marketers, fixing flight problems as soon as possible is integral.

Taking accountability seriously
But Westwood’s signing on with Verance is evidence that the $1 billion network radio business is taking accountability seriously. An inexpensive way to buy a lot of reach, network radio’s accountability track record has been cloudy because it relies on station affiliates to comply with orders and there’s enormous volume of data associated with every campaign -- a single client order can amount to a million spots airing across hundreds of stations. In addition to Verance, Westwood One, for example, also uses RCS Media Monitors and Media Guide for broadcast verification.

While so far Verance has been working mostly with the radio industry, it is eying TV as the next potential market -- not just cable networks but syndication and owned-and-operated stations as well. Broadcast, because it involves fewer total spots, has long been considered the gold standard in matching actual ad broadcasts to client schedules.

Court TV’s deal with Verance will initially involve the network and four media agencies with which it struck engagement-based upfront deals last year: Starcom, Carat, Mediaedge:cia and Magna Global.

“This is a relationship enhancer,” said Charlie Collier, exec VP-ad sales, Court TV, although he said he would be “absolutely” open to using Verance with all of the network's partners.

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