The Benefits Of Audience Targeting On Linear Are Still Unproven, TV Buyers Say



TV buying is becoming more data-driven, even on the linear side. But buyers and sellers are questioning whether audience targeting works on the medium.

“’Should TV be bought on an audience basis?’ is still an outstanding question,” Donna Speciale, president of ad sales at Turner, said Wednesday at AdExchanger’s Industry Preview conference in New York City.

Last year, Turner sold $80 million in audience-targeted inventory, and Speciale sees that number growing in 2017.

But it’s unclear whether audience targeting is more effective for TV than traditional ratings and demographics-based buys, said Marianne Gambelli, chief investment officer at Horizon Media.

“TV is scale, digital targets,” Gambelli said. “We’re trying to get to more attribution, but we haven’t been able to prove that new data sets, behavioral targeting and overlaying custom data [and] sales data on TV is proving out to be a better TV buy.”

Horizon puts roughly a 50-50 share on audience targeting and content, Gambelli said. No matter how accurate the data is, clients still want to be near shows that are highly rated and premium.

“We feel like we can do better on the audience side, but I don’t know if I want to get down to the addressable, granular level all of the time,” Gambelli said. “Content is never going away. We know those things have worked in the past. There’s too much of a benchmark to completely pivot.”

Buyers at IPG’s Initiative are also hesitant to go all-in with audience targeting. But they are trying to evolve their demos to be more outcomes-oriented than traditional age and sex demos, said Chief Investment Officer Maureen Bosetti.

“We’ve struggled with closing the loop [to] prove that buying specific audiences will yield better results,” she said. “That being said, we are trying to move to more business-led outcomes.”

Buyers also want standardization and transparency across networks before investing heavily in audience targeting. If each network works on its own standards, buyers will be forced to jump between walled gardens.

“The data is not clean yet,” Gambelli said. “We can’t just have a black box that says, ‘We’re running you overnight because our models show that’s better.’”

But TV networks may benefit from using audience data to rethink things like ad load. Platforms like Hulu, which buy on audiences frequently, use data to experiment with ad creative and length, said Peter Naylor, SVP of ad sales at Hulu. Better targeting balances out reduced ad load with ads that resonate more with the viewer.

“People don’t hate ads as long as you exercise a modest amount of restraint,” Naylor said.

Traditional networks are experimenting similarly within the constraints of commercial pods. NBCUniversal, for example, saw strong results when it cut 30% of its ad load during “Saturday Night Live.” And Turner is experimenting with YouTube TrueView ads and cutting its commercial load in half during prime time, Speciale said.

“Consumers feel that messaging now is interruptive,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out how to use the data on our viewers to marry the right message with the right environment and create different message lengths.

“It’s an industry focus that has to keep going because we will not get the viewers. They won’t stick.”

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