While the entire cable industry basks in the afterglow of a record $5.5 billion upfront, advertising insiders know those projected 20 percent plus volume increases don't flow across the board to everyone. Big money often goes to cable networks offering their own big pitch.
In order to stand out against a rising tide of new viewing alternatives, more and more cable networks aren't relying on programming buzz and ratings increases alone to tell their story. Thanks to recent technological enhancements, unique and compelling original research has become a powerful, not-so-hidden weapon; an arsenal of numbers crunching adding significant firepower in cable's battle to gain an additional revenue edge against agency broadcast buying.
Lifetime, Court TV, and Turner Networks provide three of the latest examples of some of network cable's finely tuned and powerfully presented research weaponry.
Lifetime uses research a LOT
Lifetime would seem to have a lock on female viewership. But with women audiences scattered throughout the dial---watching TNT and TLC just as often---Lifetime needed a way to underscore their own unique female viewer loyalty. Using Nielsen's new N Power software, Lifetime created a different spin on Length of Tune Analysis.
Nielsen defines length of tune as "average consecutive viewing minutes per viewing occasion." LOT, as a concept, is hardly a new idea. In the past, both broadcast and cable networks have taken existing Nielsen tune-in statistics to boast of tune-in strength. What's different now is Nielsen's decision in 2002 to create N Power, a software that allows Nielsen subscribers to use their own desktop PCs to access raw Nielsen data in real time, no longer having to wait for Nielsen to process it first. All kinds of "unique to the user" analysis can follow for researchers willing to put in the effort.
"We call it the SMART response," jokes Tim Brooks, Lifetime's SVP/research, noting that the now-defunct Nielsen competitor had made raw data access a key part of its own pitch. "But Nielsen adding this makes (whatever we do with it) highly significant."
Spending a lot of time over his own computer, Brooks found an apparent discrepancy between primetime delivery of female demos versus actual reach.
Using Nielsen primetime data from October 2002 to March 2003, Brooks discovered that women tended to watch programming in two ways: occasionally viewing and intensely watching.
"If you look at simple primetime delivery and reach, Lifetime is the number one cable network in terms of delivery of women 18 to 49, while TNT, TBS, USA, and TLC have higher numbers of 'different' women viewing," Brooks explains. "But when you track how long women viewers stay with each cable network in primetime over the time period studied, Lifetime ranks number one with 26.4 minutes per viewer (followed by TNT/22.8 minutes, USA/20.2 minutes, TBS with 19.8 minutes, and TLC with 19.6 minutes)."
What's the big deal? According to Brooks, the difference is between Grand Central Station's "constant turnover" versus that of the Metropolitan Museum, "where a concentrated viewer stands and looks."
Length of tune matters, Brooks says, "because it means less audience churn, offers advertisers viewers more likely to see commercials, correlates with a greater percentage of retention during commercial breaks, and answers the endemic problem of zapping and commercial avoidance."
More important, it shows Lifetime's women viewers spending more time with Lifetime alone than women viewers on broadcast. Lifetime's LOT beats four out of the six broadcast nets, and is nearly even with NBC (only CBS does significantly better at 27 minutes.)
"Our Length of Tune presentation offers another layer where our brand has another connection with women," adds Lynn Picard, Lifetime's EVP/sales. While acknowledging that media buyers don't include LOT in their final decisions, "their goal is cheap CPMs," she says, "Clients, brand managers, and planners do get it, and then incorporate and highlight it because they know our women viewers love and trust us, and actually feel that our commercials are important to them."
Court TV passes judgment on new research
Court TV says it took N Power and Length of Tune one step further. According to Debbie Reichig, SVP/sales strategy, their custom research, Audience Retention Analysis, "looks at programming ratings and how they hold up during commercials."
The analysis used data based on minute by minute, primetime ratings for the Week of October 14, 2002 for all cable networks that reach more than 50 million households and the four broadcast networks. Court TV found its 94.8 percent audience retention of A18 to 49 and A25 to 54 beating every major cable network save one, and all four broadcast nets.
"We showed advertisers that their commercial works harder on Court," adds Charlie Collier, EVP/advertising sales. "That it's more likely to be seen and more likely to be recalled."
"We are offering this custom research as an added value to our advertisers," Reichig says, noting she is currently talking with Zenith Media about working with them about how to use N Power. Chevy Trucks and Sears are two advertisers she cites as adding additional dollars, based on exclusive Court TV research data presentations.
GM decided to sponsor Court TV's second original movie, The Interrogation of Michael Crowe, and asked Court to produce a 2:00 minute 'behind the scenes' segment on Chevy Trucks. Minute by minute analysis showed Court TV's A25 to 54 viewers actually increased during the sponsored commercial break. For Sears, Court TV teamed up with Dynamic Logic, a leading independent research company, to analyze marketing effectiveness of multi-platform ad campaigns. Court was able to show an increase in unaided brand awareness, sponsorship association, behavior intent, and TV ad recall based on a Sear's rotation schedule on Court TV's Holiday Shopping Investigation with Kris Kringle: Private Elf.
"The key here is that commercial viewership is not guaranteed by a show's rating," she adds. "In fact, among some of the networks who came in lower, 30 percent of their viewers weren't there during commercials. We feel you have to use this tool to differentiate between cable networks."
Turner MAPs out new research
Lifetime and Court TV's research efforts involve substantial dollar investment on both their parts. In terms of power and impact, however, where Lifetime and Court TV are firing heavy guns here, Turner Broadcasting Sales' Media at the Millennium III is largely described as cable's mega blast.
"No doubt, M3 is compelling," notes one major agency buyer. "The Nielsen data they use is hard to refute." Indeed, Millennium III was the buzz at several upfront conferences that followed its April 2 debut.
Turner execs describe Media at the Millennium III as "an unprecedented analysis tool that will significantly elevate the understanding of national television reach, and do so with never before seen speed and sophistication."
The Turner Multidimensional Analytical Platform (T-MAP) is its centerpiece. Co-developed by Turner and Nielsen research groups, using Data Cube technology, T-MAP provides a mechanism for nearly instantaneous evaluation of individual national television announcements within an ad schedule, allowing for highly detailed reach and frequency analysis.
The bottom line, of course, is that T-MAP further proves Turner Networks' long-time complaint that buying too much broadcast is a bad thing for advertisers and agencies to do. Now, however, Turner has a tool that can instantly show just how costly broadcast bias can be.
"Take Everybody Loves Raymond," says Barry Fischer, EVP/marketing & research, Turner Broadcasting Sales. "Eighty percent of its total audience is reached by the time only 50 percent of their commercial spots have run. That means the second half of these million dollar spots are much less valuable."
Or, as Mark Lazarus, president of Turner Entertainment Group, puts it: "We show clients and agencies that primetime broadcast can be nothing more than an exorbitantly priced frequency medium."
Fischer argues that MI and MII "proved that for virtually any planning and buying demographic, schedules containing high levels of fully distributed national cable, dispersed across the primetime daypart, can indeed replace broadcast with no loss of reach and no increase in frequency." The big deal about MIII is the time element.
Agencies have had access to Nielsen Respondent Level data before. And Turner's pitch that fully distributed cable networks can substitute for any number of broadcast networks is an old story.
"Turner has been talking about this for years," notes Brad Adgate, SVP/director of research, Horizon Media. "They've always taken an innovative approach to research."
And agencies have long had the tools to do similar number crunching, say others.
Citing his access to Super Midas, Lyle Schwartz, SVP/director of media research, The Mediaedge, concurs. "M3 showed us something this agency already knew to be true," he says. "It's just a different take on what we already have."
What's new, he admits, is that T-MAP offers software that's "extremely fast and user-friendly." What for some might take days to compute, now takes minutes. And even if Schwartz insists his system isn't all that slow, he still encourages cable nets to keep those unique research presentations coming.
"Compelling research always gets looked at," Schwartz says, "even if agencies already have a tremendous number of tools. I applaud the cable networks for taking on this new research. I've seen stuff that sparked some ideas."
More important to the cable network bottom line, new research that is backed by legitimate Nielsen support can move additional advertising dollars to cable. Notes Brad Adgate, "Seeing how bullish the recent cable upfront was, I'd say people were certainly paying more attention this year."
Jean Bergantini Grillo is a New York City-based writer who has covered popular culture and the television industry for more than 15 years. Her column on media buying appears weekly in Broadcasting & Cable.