Crowd Control: Media executives are learning to read TV.

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Media fragmentation is prompting some media executives to make the most with less - less reach, that is, and diminished network ratings that have come about as a result of an explosion of media choices.

A team of analysts, market researchers, and statisticians at The Media Edge (TME), Young & Rubicam's media buying and planning powerhouse, has taken a page out of the current product segmentation craze. They've designed a new tool that divides the entire television line-up into programming clusters, each with its own audience profile. TME's modeling tool, called TME Television Tree or T3, pulls apart all sorts of income, viewership, and demographic data from Nielsen Media Research to identify clusters of television shows that most efficiently deliver a particular target audience.

The TGIF/Family cluster, for example, which includes shows like Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and 7th Heaven, is especially popular with girls in their early and teen years, women aged 18 to 54, and working women. Interestingly, this cluster also attracts viewership from middle-aged men, according to TME. The News Shows and Police/ Law Dramas cluster has a middle-aged, higher-income audience and scores particularly well with women between the ages of 35 and 54 and working women. Along with returning shows such as Dateline, and Law & Order, this season's cluster includes newcomers like Third Watch, Snoops, and Family Law.

The cluster system could come in handy when media buyers are negotiating for prices during the upfront, or for make-goods throughout the season, since the individual programs in each cluster offer comparable market value to advertisers. T3 also analyzes the composition of the "tagalong" viewers - those who may not be part of a show's core demographic but can be potentially desirable. Teen shows that fall into the TGIF/Family cluster, for example, are also popular with tagalong moms viewing with their kids, according to TME.

"This is our attempt to give buyers insight into the market place," says Lyle Schwartz, a senior vice president and director of media research at The Media Edge. "If you think of the media negotiation game as poker, tools like this give us an extra card."

The diagram of the T3 model looks like a family tree. Clusters found on different branches of the tree are less similar than those that are located along the same branch. At the top of the tree are the younger-skewing show clusters, and at the bottom are clusters made up of news magazine shows and other programming typically watched by older audiences.

For the season that has just begun, TME has come up with 22 such clusters, some of which are more obvious in their groupings than others.

Not surprisingly, given this year's target-the-teen marketing craze, the Adolescent Angst cluster has a slew of shows, such as returning Dawson's Creek and Felicity, as well as new bets, such as Roswell, Popular, and Jack and Jill. While popular with teenage girls and women between the ages of 18 to 34, this cluster also appears to attract a good portion of the harder-to-reach male viewers aged 18-to-34, according to TME.

Then there is Saturday Morning Cartoons, made up of kid favorites such as Mighty Ducks, Ninja Turtles, and Casper, which scores extremely high with young boys and some young girls. In fact, TME has identified no less than three such kiddie clusters: Cartoons and Educational includes shows like Bugs Bunny, Science Court, and Crayola Kids, and is a hit with young boys and girls and African American households. And Action Toons (Batman & Robin, Spider Man, Men in Black, Incredible Hulk) seems to be a magnet for young boys and African American adults.

TME isn't the only media entity embracing the idea of achieving maximum relevance by using segmentation strategies. Most major agencies are in the process of fine-tuning these so-called "optimizers" - modeling software that helps plan and buy media efficiently.

"What used to be a mass market is all broken up in pieces," says Jim Spaeth, president of the Advertising Research Foundation. "Now there is a need to line up the pieces together in order to make the communication work better."

Even some of the networks are jumping on the segmentation bandwagon. In an effort to prove to media buyers the value of its loyal core of older viewers, CBS has taken a step beyond demo clustering and has factored in car-ownership patterns, using Nielsen's National Television Index for November 1997. The aim of the study, undertaken by David Poltrack, CBS's executive vice president and director of research and planning, and Henry Assael, a professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business, was to find which types of program clusters were likely to be viewed by owners of ten different types of automobiles.

Among other findings, CBS's analysis claims that there is a relationship between the demographics of car buyers and the networks they watch: Compact-car owners tune in to Fox, for example; larger- and luxury-car owners frequently tune in to CBS; sports cars and sports utility vehicles owners watch NBC; and compact-van owners like ABC. That kind of knowledge, Poltrack says, is useful to media buyers because it suggests that programs can be selected in groups for the purpose of targeting to specific product categories, everything from video games and microwave ovens to bottled water, soft drinks, and wine. Poltrack even suggests that product ownership and usage is a more effective means of selecting media than the traditional way, based on age and gender demographics.

Poltrack has urged ad agencies to look at his analysis for their ad campaigns. "If you utilize this approach, you get a cluster of programs that delivers a usage and lifestyle pattern, and you can work with that universe to learn more about these people." Poltrack says this or a similar analysis method could be used by agencies to test their campaigns in a more relevant way, by running focus groups, say, of people who watch certain shows and own the type of product being advertised. "This is the richest kind of media tool you can have."

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