Disney In One Buy: How Disney Is Unifying Its Advertising Approach

At AdExchanger’s Programmatic I/O conference in San Francisco on April 30, Laura Nelson, Disney’s SVP of advertising solutions and performance advertising, will share how it’s selling connected TV as consumer habits and advertising preferences change.

Disney is on a mission to unify its inventory across platforms and offer buyers alluring scale against much smaller audience segments.

In the new Disney platform, buyers will be able to find their target audience across ESPN, ABC and Freeform with a single buy. They can also find larger pools of content. If they want news, for example, they can pair ESPN with ABC News. And just weeks ago, the 21st Century Fox deal closed, adding FX and National Geographic inventory to the group.

While unification is the goal, the platform is still a work in progress. Disney signed a deal with Google Ad Manager in November 2018 to unify all its inventory across networks. Structurally, Disney is already aligned. Three months before Disney made the move to unify its tech, it added ESPN to the purview of Rita Ferro, who now oversees ad sales from ABC to ESPN.

Beginning in October at the start of the broadcast year, Disney wants to make it possible to look at connected TV (CTV) inventory across its portfolio, from Apple TV to Roku, and then do campaign delivery across platforms.

That platform unification won’t include two pieces. The first is Hulu; though Disney now owns a majority stake in Hulu, it can’t access subscriber data to inform buys. Its own content there runs on a completely separate technology stack. The second piece is Disney+. The much-publicized direct-to-consumer streaming service will be available by subscription only, with no ads.

Laura Nelson, Disney’s SVP of advertising solutions and performance marketing, talked to AdExchanger about Disney’s vision to make it easy for buyers to purchase audience segments across different networks, with the vision of converging digital, CTV and linear.

AdExchanger: How is Disney making CTV inventory more attractive to buyers?

LAURA NELSON: Buyers see CTV – which brings the best of digital and linear into one place – as attractive already. We are focused across all our inventory to make sure it’s as targetable as possible. There are sometimes challenges with unlocking that targeting.

What’s an example of a situation where it’s difficult to unlock that data?

We have to go platform by platform to do any infrastructure integration between systems. On ABC, the majority of the inventory runs on Hulu. It also runs on Dish Sling. Hulu fully owns its ad stack and the platform, so they don’t have to worry about their distribution deals.

That’s a good point. How do programmers like Disney secure data to help buyers when a good chunk of the data is held by intermediaries, like distributors, devices or platforms?

Advanced targeting can go through first-, second- or third-party data. Clients increasingly want to transact against their first-party data, so we want to enable that. We have relationships with LiveRamp or Oracle’s BlueKai to unlock audience segments. There is a third bucket, where we have a team focused on creating first-party audience segments that are different across Disney affinity brands as well as our network.

What goes into Disney’s first-party data offering?

We take learnings about audiences tied to our inventory and match it with first-party data so we can more accurately target and assess behavior segments. That’s a big focus around CTV. We have a team to make sure this machine learning extends to all platforms [desktop, mobile app] including CTV.

It’s a predictive model our data science team created that looks at viewership information from mobile games, inventory on our own platforms as well as [viewership, not subscription] information from Hulu. And we add surveys to create audience segments and predict that this person is more likely to buy X, Y or Z. It’s not necessarily one-to-one targeting. We’re making sure we’re doing this in a privacy-safe way.

What’s an example of how Disney inventory will be unified as you migrate to Google Ad Manager?

We will have the ability to move inventory across different brands with the creation of one deal ID. On the direct side, [it’s] the ability to buy inventory across ABC and Freeform. It was different setups before. When you bring inventory types together, like ESPN and ABC News, you think about how you could bring those live news or short-form video content types together and sell against an audience. In silos, the scale wasn’t there. You need scale for an audience-based buy.

What’s different about the way you see buyers asking to transact today?

Historically, there’s been the divide between the traditional linear buyer and digital buyer. But in the premium content space, agencies and clients understand that you need to buy inventory across platforms, not separately. There is a move across all agencies to figure out how to transact in this manner. Getting to a place where you are buying audiences across platforms is the future. We need to agree on measurement to make that happen.

What are the biggest gaps today in terms of data?

There is not a standard device ID across OTT devices. And it’s difficult to identify the identifier on OTT devices. Everyone works with them in a different way, and there are differences in how and where you integrate with those platforms.

We’re trying to figure out how to create proxies for that OTT viewing, and how to measure or target against that [proxy]. We know there is promise, but there is not unification in how you’re identifying those users. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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