While early discussions in and around the pre-upfront silly season have been dominated by breathless encomiums to data and all its multivalent wonders, very few networks are prepared to start trading against their advanced metrics. The Viacom Media Networks group looks like one notable exception.
According to media buyers who have kicked the tires on Viacom's suite of data-fueled advertising products, the MTV Networks brands were already among the most proactive in the TV space. They are now introducing Viacom Vantage, offering clients new levels of targeting and optimization.
Essentially, Vantage allows Viacom to identify the programming assets that are the most effective environments in which to reach a client's self-defined consumer target. Or, to put it more plainly, Vantage is a bit of like a computer dating service. The client inputs the sort of traits it looks for in a customer, and Vantage's proprietary algorithm spits out a list of shows where the two are most likely to intersect.
The upshot, in part, is to help wean clients off the artificial construct of the TV demo. "Look, we know that you're losing a ton of traction when you transact exclusively through a traditional demo," said Kern Schireson, exec VP-data strategy and consumer intelligence, Viacom Media Networks. "What we want to do is shift the game and get you optimally connected to the best content that performs at the best possible level against the target as you've defined it, across all of our platforms."
"They're the exception to the rule," said Dave Campanelli, senior VP-director of national broadcast, Horizon Media, adding that NBC Universal is similarly advanced on the data front. "It's obvious that they both have taken a thoughtful approach to data and are in a good place."
Mr. Campanelli wrote a Vantage deal with Viacom back in the 2014-15 upfront, when the product was still being referred to in-house as "DataLabs." While he asked that the client not be identified, it is a bona fide blue chipper.
Activation for the brand began on Jan. 1 and the plan has been optimized every two weeks since. "The real added value here is Viacom's social amplification, and how they can ID the target audience beyond the demo," Mr. Campanelli said. "It's all about going beyond age and sex and identifying who the consumer is and where they're watching across all the Viacom networks."
Four months into the deal, and the results are compelling enough to have Horizon to take an even deeper dive during this year's bazaar. "We will definitely expand the number of clients this year," Mr. Campanelli said. "We're not ready to flip the switch and go all the way to advance target guarantees, but we definitely would look at it, on a client by client basis, a few years down the road."
Old habits die hard, of course. About a year ago, when Vantage was still in beta, an automotive sponsor expressed reservations about investing in one of Viacom's more youth-facing networks. "The client basically said, 'I've got a bunch of truck launches this year, this channel skews younger, young people don't buy trucks,'" Mr. Schireson said, adding that a demonstration of how Vantage can match individual MTVN shows to people in the market to buy a new truck totally flipped the script. "Instead of pulling money off that channel, their spend went up, because at the end of the day, the demo is such a flawed translation of a true marketing target."
According to Viacom ad sales chief Jeff Lucas, the TV landscape is rather neatly divided between the quick and the dead. Those who don't adapt will get left in the dust. "Given where the marketplace has been over the last few years, you really have to demonstrate how you can deliver more value to each client on each and every deal," Mr. Lucas said. "That's the only way you'll grow."
If the upfront promises to be something of an echo chamber ("Everyone's in the data business!" Mr. Lucas chuckles), Viacom has momentum on its side. Whereas a lot of network groups are talking about doing data deals, Viacom actually has the receipts to back itself up. "We did five [Vantage] deals as part of the upfront last year," Mr. Lucas said. "This year we'll probably do, I would say, 15 to 20, depending on how much we want to take in each one."
Vantage joins another data-fueled Viacom ad offering, the social-amplification platform, Echo. The 18-month-old service recently took advantage of the Video Music Awards and MTV's affinity for identifying social-media phenoms in order to help generate 82.8 million Twitter impressions for Pepsi over the course of four days.
According to Mr. Lucas, Viacom during last year's upfront booked 43 Echo executions.