TV's Weekend At Bernie's

"Age/sex demos are dead." So went the refrain last week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas and, later, at an event my company co-hosted in New York.

But despite all the chatter, and despite the industry's consistently and increasingly warm reception of the new generation of media-measurement solutions, many marketers seem inexplicably (to me at least) reluctant to let go of traditional television ratings.

It's like something out of that not-quite-classic '80s flick "Weekend at Bernie's."

You know, the one where two corporate lackeys score an invitation to their boss's island retreat, and show up for a weekend of fun in the sun only to find their host dead? Of course, they prop him up, slap on some dark glasses, and drag the guy around from party to party, thinking that his mere presence lends them the appearance of credibility. Sound familiar?

Of course it does, because traditional TV ratings are Bernie: Everyone wants to keep them around, but in reality, they're not doing anything for you. When you need actionable ratings that demonstrate ROI and deliver the right audience for your product, you need to follow the data. That was the gist of a panel I spoke on at the NAB Show, "Set Top Boxes: A Measurement Game Changer?" (And by the way, can you imagine a more rhetorical question?)

Dave Thomas of Nielsen talked about his firm's adoption of set-top-box (STB) data to enhance its local ratings. Rentrak's Bill Livek discussed using STB data for local ratings and segmentation analysis. And Jeff Boehme from Kantar announced his company's "new" approach to marrying STB data to purchase data.  I spoke about how buyers and sellers are actioning our data in the upfront. From the client side, Pat Dermody of Sears Holdings and Matt Seiler of MediaBrands summed it up well: There is lots of innovation now in TV advertising, and they look forward to even more in the future. All in all, the session turned out to provide an excellent overview of the competitive landscape.

It's a landscape that, thanks to Nielsen's IPO, is beginning to garner more serious attention.

Just last month Deutsche Bank Analyst Matt Chesler published a report in which he wrote that "perhaps one of the more promising uses [of STB data] is for marketing effectiveness and ROI, as companies match second by second viewing data with actual purchase behavior from third-party databases."

This point was driven home at the aforementioned event at The Lambs Club in Manhattan, a great new spot in Midtown that's already attracting many media notables (a new Michael's?).

Titled "Superheroes of Media:  The New World of Accountability in the TV Upfront," the event featured Jeff Hayzlett, former CMO of Kodak and bestselling author, who delivered a keynote address that was followed by a panel of media experts. 

Hayzlett shared the CMO's perspective on why innovation is critical and how ROI measurement is fundamental for the CMO. 

Then came the panel of "superheroes:" Donna Speciale, President of Investment and Activation at MediaVest ( introduced as "Wonder Woman"); David Poltrack, President of CBS Vision ("Superman"); Bruce Lefkowitz, Executive Vice President of Sales at FX ("Batman"); and TRA Co-Founder and Chief Research Officer Bill Harvey ("Spiderman").  Brian Steinberg of Ad Age, aka Professor Charles Xavier, moderated the panel. 

Participants shared several key insights my readers will appreciate: Donna pointed out that we need to focus on dissecting the behaviors of all of the individuals we are trying to reach in order to home in on purchase behavior based on each client's needs. Bruce said that TRA's Purchaser Rating Points, an alternative currency for "ratings," demonstrate the absolute and relative value of a program to an advertiser. And, perhaps most notably, David reiterated his believe that nobody's relying on age/sex demographics on their own anymore. They can't afford to.

And that brings us back to Bernie.  While the industry is decisively moving away from age/sex demos, the reality may be that the obsolete metric continues to make appearances at this and future upfronts.  But it's only a matter of time. After all, didn't that long weekend finally come to an end?

Tags: television, tv
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2 comments about "TV's Weekend At Bernie's".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , April 18, 2011 at 12:28 p.m.

    House or unit? Kids or not? Parents living or dead? Snow or no snow? Car or car over 5 or 10 years? Socio-economic levels are more important to buying capabilities than age/gender. Would Bernie be the same if his annual income was $25,000?

  2. Mark Lieberman from TRA , April 20, 2011 at 2:38 p.m.

    If Bernie -- those age/sex ratings -- only cost $25K, maybe he'd keep scoring those invitations. But while he's nice to have around, more and more advertisers are reconsidering whether they can count on him to be the life of the party.