TV Upfront

Viacom Aims to Make Data Accessible to All Marketers

Expects 80% of All Upfront Deals to Include Data in Some Way

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'A lot of clients want to talk about data because they know they should be talking about data, but not everyone can do it,' said Jeff Lucas, head of marketing and partner solutions, Viacom.
'A lot of clients want to talk about data because they know they should be talking about data, but not everyone can do it,' said Jeff Lucas, head of marketing and partner solutions, Viacom. Credit: Viacom

Viacom wants to make data a part of nearly every deal it does during this year's upfronts.

To do it, the cable programmer, whose networks include Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and VH1, is bringing to market a suite of five new products designed to make audience buying more accessible to a broader pool of marketers.

To make a typical data-driven TV deal, marketers often put less emphasis on choosing the shows and times of day when their ads air, choices that were guided for decades by viewers' gender and age but not much more. Instead marketers seek ad inventory that over-indexes on more detailed targets, such as women with income over $100,000 looking to buy a car in the next three months. But to do that, a marketer needs to have a firm handle on its own data and the specific audience it wants to reach.

One of Viacom's products, Vantage Instant Audience offers a more turnkey approach by fitting clients' needs to audience segments that Viacom has identified on its own, said Jeff Lucas, head of marketing and partner solutions, Viacom. That makes data-driven deals more accessible to a broader array of clients, he said.

"A lot of clients want to talk about data because they know they should be talking about data, but not everyone can do it," Mr. Lucas said. "For marketers who don't know the specific segment they want to target or don't want to share it, we created category segmentations and can plug the audience in."

The product promises that advertisers seeking likely car buyers but lacking further details, for example, can still get a more precisely targeted audience than if they bought on traditional age and sex demographics.

Viacom is also introducing Vantage Target Discovery, which will allow marketers to reach "persuadables," people who are not currently customers of a brand but may be open to its messaging. Viacom tries to indentify potential consumers by scrutinizing viewers on its websites and apps, in social media and via research.

Viacom can also help marketers create messages that will help convince these consumers to change their minds, Mr. Lucas said.

The goal is to expand the universe of possible customers for a brand. "You don't want to waste a message on people who are already loyal to another brand," Mr. Lucas said.

There's been an influx in announcements around TV networks expanding their data offerings for this spring's upfront, when networks look to a sell a bulk of commercial time for the new season.

While media buyers and marketers are welcoming individual data products being introduced by companies like Viacom, NBC Universal and Turner, for the most part buying on audiences beyond Nielsen age and sex demographics is still nascent.

One of the biggest challenges according to several media buyers is that each of network's data products operate in "walled gardens." Since each network group uses different technology and data, it is difficult for a marketer to reach a specific target across TV in any standard way.

There also seems to be some fatigue in the marketplace over the announcement of new products, which for the most part offer incremental improvements and don't necessarily changing how marketers will approach buying in any given year.

Mr. Lucas acknowledges it will reach a point where "It won't be about did you do a data deal? Data will just be a daily part of doing business."

While Mr. Lucas expects to triple its Viacom Vantage data deals to about 33, up from 11 during last year's ad haggle, he said it is about more than just using data to make more informed media buys.

"We are incorporating data in everything we do," he said, predicting that data will be worked into about 80% of Viacom's upfront deals in one way or another.

This ability for marketers to target viewers beyond Nielsen measurement becomes especially important as Viacom enters the upfront selling season with its traditional ratings depressed.

The company is attempting to move away from setting guarantees based on Nielsen metrics, which it says do not account for a portion of viewing taking place on a variety of platforms and devices. That's true of a number of programmers but especially Viacom, whose networks like MTV and Comedy Central attract the younger audiences most likely to watch content on newer platforms.

"Whether ratings are up or down these products will deliver more value to our clients," Mr. Lucas said.

Viacom previously announced several other data-enabled products: Velocity Content Network, an in-house, full-service content agency that uses data to create and distribute branded content across TV, social and digital platforms; an update to its Echo Social Graph, which can now not only measure the reach, engagement and brand lift of social media campaigns, but aims to interpret the sentiment of social conversations; and Viewprint, which tracks fan passion and affinities across social, linear and digital platforms and uses it to develop custom campaigns for clients.

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