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Viacom On Advanced TV: ‘Frustration Can Be Great For Innovation’


Viacom’s Bryson Gordon will speak at AdExchanger’s upcoming PROGRAMMATIC I/O New York conference on Oct. 15 and 16.

Around five years ago, advanced TV was still “a science experiment,” said Bryson Gordon, Viacom’s EVP of advanced advertising.

But during this year’s upfront cycle, data-driven buying through Vantage, Viacom’s advanced advertising platform, more than doubled.

“Marketers are beyond the point where they’re kicking the tires,” said Gordon, who’s been with Viacom since 2015 after a long stint at Microsoft, most recently as senior director of consumer product marketing for Microsoft Surface.

Even so, TV inventory fragmentation is real and getting realer. There’s an appetite to move beyond demographics, but there’s no easy button to press and make it happen.

Which is why Gordon has a group within his team whose sole focus is to help advertisers spend their budgets “in a cohesive way” across traditional data-driven linear, addressable TV and connected TV.

“Their whole job is to make the process easy for clients – to make it feel just like buying TV,” he said.

AdExchanger caught up with Gordon to talk about the evolution of TV targeting, what it means to measure business outcomes and Viacom’s plans for its ad-supported streaming app, Pluto TV.

AdExchanger: What’s the pitch when you get advertisers in the room?

BRYSON GORDON: I start with what marketers are trying to solve for, which is the ability to understand, with some level of depth, the characteristics of their high-value customers.


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Back before I was in media I used to run a marketing team, and that’s exactly what I needed to know. But I can’t tell you how many meetings there were where we and the data scientists would come in and say, “Here is the audience we need, here are the strategic segments that will grow the business,” and the media buyers would say, “OK, that’s cool … but how about adults 18 to 49?”

So much fell on deaf ears for such a long time, but that is where this new ecosystem of advanced TV grew out of – frustration can be great for innovation. TV is one of the most powerful types of media to drive persuadability. You just couldn’t get enough granularity to make the media work smarter and harder.

How much of the inertia in the TV buying world was related to a lack of technology and how much to buyers being set in their ways?

At first, it was a technology problem. The technical infrastructure and capabilities simply didn’t exist to target strategic audience segments on TV. But once the technology problem got solved, it absolutely became a hearts-and-minds problem.

People have been buying demography on TV for 50 years, so why change? Well, because it turns out there’s a better way to do it. But you need a three-way partnership to make things happen here. We can’t just be working with the agency, we also need to work with the data team at the advertiser. That’s what’s helping us move this from a series of pilots to a material part of ad revenue.

What’s the plan for Pluto TV following the CBS deal?

Pluto is a place where Viacom can participate in the transformation of TV at all price points. You hear a lot of talk in the press today that it’s all about subscriptions, subscriptions, subscriptions, and that people are going to have to cobble it all together. Yes, there will be a market for that, but we think there’s also a tremendous market for a free model tied into television content that can be delivered across a range of publishers.

A lot of Viacom content is on Pluto, but there’s also a ton coming from other third-party publishers who see value in a platform that reaches 18 million monthly active users, many of whom represent broadband-only households. But there is also a high percentage of Pluto consumers that are not cable subscribers, and that’s nothing but incremental reach for our clients.

What sort of targeting can you do on Pluto?

Pluto is a FreeWheel-served ad environment. It’s one-to-one targeting.

But the thing we’re really investing in is Pluto as part of an overall media activation for our clients against all of our content. It’s not about targeting through one individual platform or product, like Pluto. We’re thinking about how to orchestrate advanced audience campaigns against all of our distribution options, whether that’s optimizing national linear spend or driving a set of ad insertions into live linear addressable, VOD, Pluto or another Viacom property, like the Comedy Central app.

That’s how advertisers really maximize their business outcomes and the customer segments they want to reach.

How are you defining outcomes?

When I say “business outcomes,” that’s being defined by the client. I’m never going to plant a victory flag at the end of a campaign and say, “I drove all of these conversions for you.” We, the TV industry overall, needs to bring a sense of pragmatism to how customers think about the goals they want to achieve for a campaign and how we can best play our part.

There’s a lot of noise from people saying they can draw a straight line between pushing an ad in a certain medium and driving a sale. As someone who used to oversee hundreds of millions of dollars of spend and who was on the hook for actually selling product, I can tell you one thing: It’s not that simple.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Follow Allison Schiff (@OSchiffey) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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