The biggest barrier to audience targeting on TV has been marketers' inability to buy specific audience segments across rival networks -- rendering their precision-advertising campaigns laborious to assemble in a big way.
Fox Networks Group, Turner and Viacom are looking to change that by teaming up on a platform that would standardize audience targeting among the three.
Dubbed OpenAP, the platform allows for consistent matching between the TV network groups' audiences and the custom audience targets that advertisers built using their own data. That means an advertiser going after a very specific audience segment can apply that same segmentation across the three network groups, buying whatever programming will deliver those groups.
Fox Networks Group's portfoltio include Fox Broadcasting Company and FX; Tuner operates networks including Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS and TNT; and Viacom owns channels including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and MTV.
Agencies and advertisers will be able to integrate OpenAP with their own planning systems, according to the companies. It will also include third-party verified guarantees.
But this isn't a transactional or programmatic platform, and no data will be shared between the three companies, said Donna Speciale, president-ad sales, Turner, adding that they will each negotiate deals separately.
"We have to have security walls between what clients do with each of us," said Sean Moran, head of ad sales, Viacom.
The marketplace has been skeptical about the individual data products being offered by network groups that allow them to more precisely target consumers. While each essentially do the same thing -- allow a brand to reach consumers with specific criteria, like households with an income over $100,000 and a car lease set to expire in six months -- each one does it in a different way.
Because each data product uses different technologies and sets of data, there's no way to buy targeted TV inventory across the industry. That has limited the adoption of such data products.
"Clients tell us all the time that if it was easier to buy across networks they would do more," said Joe Marchese, president-advanced advertising products, Fox Networks Group.
One network group missing from the consortium is NBC Universal, who earlier in the month announced it is looking to sell $1 billion of its inventory based on guarantees that are not traditional Nielsen age and sex demographics.
NBCU has also been striking deals with publishers to work together to sell ads. Conde Nast joined NBCU and Vox's partnership earlier this month, which allows marketers to buy audiences across their combined digital properties.
"We are excited about it," said Mike Law, director-national activation, Dentsu Aegis Network. "We think one of the biggest challenge in the space has been the inability to find a consistent target across multiple platforms." While Mr. Law predicted that there will be some growing pains, he said the partnership should help make it easier to buy targeted audiences on a large scale.
The next step is being able to prove business results, Mr. Law said. "We need to be able to show clients we can drive incremental reach, app download," or whatever the objectives of the campaign are, he said.
The platform may not accelerate spending in audience buying meaningfully in the annual TV upfront market, Mr. Law added, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.
"It is a great step forward in my view," said David Cohen, U.S. president, Magna Global. "It allows us to standardize custom audiences across partners - buy against them and measure and post against them,
While another media buyer said the partnership does help move audience buying forward, it doesn't create "a single platform that all inventory and buyers can connect to and transact on."
"This serves to standardize some of the targeting and reporting of audience-based TV buying, which reduces the significance of the biggest pain points of this type of buying," the buyer said by email. "It is a step (and probably the right step) in the right direction. It's also very interesting that NBC has declined to participate. This allows the combined scale of Turner, Fox, and Viacom a competitor to rival that of NBC, at least with regard to consistency in the data, targeting, and reporting."
OpenAP is a step in making audience targeting widely applicable at once, simpler and more transparent, Ms. Speciale added.
It's rare to see executives from competing network groups sit in the same room together, let alone partner for business initiatives. But, Ms. Speciale said, "The only way we see audience targeting becoming scalable is if we come together."
It's also surely a move to better compete against digital ad products from the likes of Google and Facebook.
OpenAP will allow for the scale and efficiency of digital with the quality impressions TV delivers, Mr. Marchese said.
It will also help in networks' efforts to create a better commercial experience for consumers by delivering more relevant adds, Mr. Moran said.
And as more content begins to be delivered over the internet, OpenAP becomes the basis for audience buying one-to-one, said Mr. Marchese.
OpenAP will be open to other publishers, and Ms. Speciale is hopeful others will join. "The only way it is going to work is if we get a lot more on board," she said.
Turner, Fox and Viacom will provide further information on OpenAP at an event next month.