Turner's Data Dreams Extend Beyond Its Own Walls

Expects 50% of Its Inventory to Be Purchased Through Audience Targeting by 2020

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Turner Broadcasting has loftier goals for its data products outside of helping its own clients make more efficient and targeted TV ad buys. Internally, the cable programmer is also plotting how its technology could power the entire TV industry's data efforts.

Nearly every TV network group is testing some sort of data product that allows marketers to set guarantees on more specific targets than the age and sex demographics they have traditionally relied on.

But thus far these tests, including Turner's, have been small due to the limited inventory available to buy and lack of consistency from one network group to the next.

Each product uses different data sets and is powered by various technology. This makes data-driven TV buys increasingly complicated.

"There's going to have to be a standardization," said Donna Speciale, president-ad sales, Turner Broadcasting. "We can't all do it differently."

And Ms. Speciale is laying the groundwork for Turner to be a leader in creating this standardization.

In its second year in the marketplace with its suite of data products, Turner is moving beyond the secondary guarantees that have thus far dominated data offerings, to testing new forms of currency.

Ms. Speciale believes its Competitive Audiences Estimates, which fuels the predictive element of its new Audience Now product, can one day be used outside of Turner's walls.

"Internally we have discussed letting the technology power the rest of the industry," Ms. Speciale said, noting the company filed a patent for the CAE technology.

Audience Now, which was introduced during this year's upfronts, removes the age and sex demo guarantees completely. So marketers don't buy a daypart or demo; they are buying audiences across Turner's entire portfolio.

Turner claims CAE builds true audience impression estimates for its inventory that's more precise than program-level estimates. This becomes necessary when moving outside of demo guarantees, according to the company.

Just because a lot of people who intend to buy a car are watching "King of Queens" on TBS on Tuesday, for example, does not mean those people are also watching on Wednesday. CAE builds estimates at the 30-minute level by network, by exact day of the year.

The system is also designed to work for any target definition based on virtually any data set, the company claims.

While smaller networks that have less resources to throw behind building its own data infrastructure may be willing to buy Turner's technology, it seems unlikely larger companies like NBC Universal and Viacom, which have also made meaningful progress with their data efforts, would use Turner's technology after investing heavily in their own.

And, of course, there's no data available yet that shows how well Audience Now works. Currently, four advertisers have signed on to use the product, including Kellogg and General Motors.

Kellogg has been using purchase-based data to fuel its TV ad buys since 2012, said Chris Hackett, senior director-North America media, Kellogg.

But Audience Now gives the company an opportunity to help evolve the currency away from "antiquated age and sex guarantees," Mr. Hackett said.

"From a technology and platform standpoint and when it comes to understanding the data-driven approach, Turner seems further ahead," he said.

But Mr. Hackett noted that Kellogg is having conversations with other possible network partners about their data offerings.

Kellogg will use audience now as a test to see if data products offered by networks provide any advantage to the data strategy the company already has in place with its agency Starcom.

While Turner doesn't yet have any proof that Audience Now will work, it does have its first wave of analysis for its Targeting Now and Provable ROI products.

Targeting Now allows marketers to set secondary guarantees based on more specific targets, but still uses Nielsen data in its deals. The company saw an average lift of 28% across clients' schedules.

All of the marketers that bought in to Targeting Now last year re-upped their deals this year, Ms. Speciale said. Turner currently has about two dozen advertisers using Targeting Now.

Its Provable ROI product, built on the foundation of its former product ROI Now, sees sales lifts between 3% and 17%, and online research lifts of 20% to 40%, for clients. There are currently 18 deals for the product in place.

Turner is only making a small percentage of its inventory to be bought in this way, but Ms. Speciale predicts that about 50% of Turner's inventory will be purchased through audience targeting by 2020.

It will never be 100% of Turner's inventory, however, Ms. Speciale added. Properties like the NCAA tournament, for example, will most likely not be a part of Audience Now, since typically marketers purchase these as part of larger packages that include more than just commercial time. Similarly, a show like "Conan," where a bulk of the inventory includes integrations and content marketing, will likely not be included.

Each year the percentage of inventory that will be sold on an audience basis will fluctuate depending on what the content looks like, Ms. Speciale said.

But ultimately, Ms. Speciale predicts that by 2020 the industry won't be setting guarantees or measuring success by adults 18-49 or 25-54. Of course, that's still some ways away.

The biggest "ah-ha moment" so far for Turner's ad sales team has been "how difficult it has been for clients to decide what audience they want to go after," Ms. Speciale said. "It took weeks and weeks for them to decide," which elongated the process.

In order for the products to work properly, marketers also need to get comfortable with giving up some control and thinking of TV more like they think of digital.

"They need to let us bring the entire portfolio as a solution so this means there may be networks they don't usually buy," Ms. Speciale said.

This requires "an un-doing of an old behavior," she said, and as a result, will take time.

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