NBC News Kills The Demographic, Personifies Its Viewers Instead

In a bid to shift advertisers and agencies away from what it claims is an archaic way of defining TV and video news audiences -- the demographic -- NBC News Digital this week will begin pitching a new audience targeting scheme based not on the classic age, sex and income descriptors that have been used as the currency of Madison Avenue for the past half century, but on the behaviors and “personas” of news consumers. The news consumer personas, which were developed by NBC’s sales and research teams in conjunction with a variety of third-party research suppliers, essentially cluster news consumers into four main groups, based on how passionate they are about news and how much they utilize digital media to access it.

“Essentially, we’ve discovered there are four archetypes of news consumers,” Kyoo Kim, vice president-sales NBC News Digital, explained in an exclusive interview with Online Media Daily unveiling the new persona-based targeting concept.

“Why does this matter to advertisers?” he continued. “Because focusing on behavior vs. demographics gives our customers better insights into the tendencies of our viewers.”

The four personas include:

  • “Always On:” Consumers who are constantly connected to news feeds across multiple devices throughout their waking day.
  • “Reporters:” A slightly smaller segment of “digital natives” who grew up consuming news via online and mobile media, and who have manifested the behaviors of news disseminators, taking pride in their ability to break important news to their friends via their own social media postings.
  • “Skimmers:” Consumers who are not passionately connected to news.
  • “Veterans:” Consumers who primarily rely on traditional media as a trusted source for news.

Not surprisingly, NBC News is focused mainly on the first two segments, especially the “Always On” group of news junkies who rely on a constant stream of digital access to breaking news developments. In fact, Kim says the new persona-based audience targeting schemes are not simply for the purpose of pitching advertisers, but are the new guideposts NBC News is using to develop its news content, the way it distributes and even markets it to consumers. As a result, NBC News is also changing its digital news products, including the advertising formats that marketers can use to communicate to news consumers, with an emphasis on new “native formats” that blur the line between editorial and brand content that will make advertising messages more seamless and far less distinguishable from NBC News' actual news feeds.

The push away from demographics is not a new phenomenon in the media industry, or on Madison Avenue. Almost since they were first created in the 1960s, demographics have been cast as an archaic -- and to some extent, not-so-representative -- way of clustering audiences for advertisers and programmers alike.

Demographics originally were developed as a stopgap solution by Nielsen in the 1960s when a then-distant ABC was an also-ran to two dominant broadcast networks -- CBS and NBC -- in household ratings, but the fledgling third network indexed much higher in certain types of households valuable to advertisers -- particularly young, urban and affluent households. The rest is history -- and demographics got baked into Nielsen’s, and ultimately Madison Avenue’s, planning and buying systems.

For years, top industry research executives, especially CBS research chief David Poltrack, have championed a shift away from demographics toward better, more representative audience descriptors. Poltrack has been a big supporter of various “single-source” methods that tie audience exposure to product purchasing data, and most recently has been pushing the industry to get behind the Nielsen Catalina Marketing Solutions version of that.

But personas have been gaining steam in other quarters, especially digital ones. “Brand and consumer interest graph” data and targeting company 33across utilizes personas as its main audience descriptors and has amassed a sophisticated database and taxonomy around describing online users based on their behaviors and interests and then matching them to the media they consume online.

NBC News’ Kim says personas make more sense because they are based on actual behaviors and not arbitrary attributes that may or may not relate to the reason a consumer was experiencing media -- or brands -- at that time. He says NBC News will continue to refine the personas it uses to define its audiences and will work with advertisers, agencies and other third-party researchers to do that.

The descriptions it has developed to date were drawn from data and analytics from a list of research suppliers including:

  •  Energy Infuser’s focus group research
  •  Nielsen’s consumer video logs
  •  Insight Express’ quantitative surveys
  •  Hint’s IDI in-field work to shape personas
  •  Ipsos’ in-depth survey to explore personas
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3 comments about "NBC News Kills The Demographic, Personifies Its Viewers Instead".
  1. Brian Spain from Brian Spain , October 4, 2012 at 1:43 p.m.
    This is all well and good as an overlay to how a brand must look at their own target - not simply defined by the media view of their own target, but by the advertiser's category and brand usage. If, for instance, a brand must target by life-stage (e.g. diapers?), the media's personas may carry a lot less weight than the demographic.
  2. John LaRocca from dunnhumby USA , October 9, 2012 at 8:33 a.m.
    I disagree, Brian. Why target consumers who are merely in a life-stage with a higher probability of purchasing diapers when you can target actual verified diaper buyers?
  3. Nick Myers from Cooper , October 19, 2012 at 12:15 p.m.
    It's great to see an org like NBC use personas. They've been utilized in the design of software and digital products for many years now and have many benefits. Particularly, highlighting people's behavioral attributes and needs to help teams design and deliver better experiences. This reminds me of an article written from the company I work for about reconciling market segments and personas. Worth a read if you want to learn more. http://www.cooper.com/journal/2002/03/reconciling_market_segments_an.html