Media Insights Q&A With Viacom Media Networks' Todd Cunningham


Todd Cunningham, senior vice president, strategic insights and research, for Viacom Media Networks (previously known as MTV Networks), built his career starting on the agency and branding side of media and marketing. Coming to VMN has been a natural fit for Todd who can now mesh his love of music and pop culture with his love of research. In my interview with him, Todd talks about his work at VMN, cross-platform research methods, and his work for CTAM as a co-chair of the recent Insights Conference Planning Committee.

The videos of the interview can be viewed here. Below is an excerpt:

CW: Your networks have a unique advantage when it comes to cross platform, because they start off essentially engaged. Have you done any cross-platform measurement research that you can share with us?

TC: We are beginning to get more consistently into cross-platform measurement now that there are new tools available. We are continuously testing and learning and working with partners to help them refine their products and services in this area. Over time we have been able to quantify that people do start out engaged with various platforms. That is a huge finding and something that a lot of measurement approaches don’t acknowledge. They assume that people are not engaged and that you have to earn that engagement -- that there is this giant hill to overcome. But we have found that they are in fact already engaged.



We were the first media company to quantify the value of engagement across screens and have been able to prove that smaller and smaller audiences are of higher and higher value. It enabled us to apply that approach across all types of genres, all types of content, all types of audiences. One of the big learnings of that is when you set the content free and the consumer has it on their own terms, their affinity for your message or your content across all measures reaches a peak. That is when the consumer is co-creating with you. We were able to dispel a lot of threat that was being felt across the industry with this finding.

CW: Many networks that target 18-49 and 25-54 have a 20- to 300year span in their audience. Some of your networks turn over audience in a matter of just a few years and yet you keep the brands fresh. How does research participate in the freshening and the tracking of the brand?

TC: A lot of it comes back to commitment from the top, which I find is the key to success for a great research and insights person. Having cover from your senior management who endorses and makes sure that you and your team have a seat at the table, that you are respected, you are well resourced and certainly if you are challenged from a research perspective you are allowed to be creative about finding the kinds of things you need to find out to help grow the business.

But we know that we can’t do it alone. The consumer holds the keys to a lot of solutions. In terms of being able to keep the brands fresh, having al those in research co-located with the brands who are focused on understanding those insights (from research) and translating the data into insights that work across the businesses. So we are on road shows legal, rights and clearances, ad sales etc, making sure that the research has value to all those groups. It is really a team effort and helps keep the brands fresh and informed about the evolution of their target audiences.

CW: In terms of a MTV for example, where the audience may turn over every five, six, seven years, are there research techniques that tend to work well in tracking the audience and the changes in the audience through different generations?

TC: That is a great question these days where the backdrop for everything has changed. All of our research teams, including MTV’s, are among the best at adapting and applying the most relevant research techniques to unearth new insights. New methodologies are great. New realities bring new opportunities. But one thing I have found in my experience is that methodologies focused on unearthing people’s motivations, their desires, their rituals and things like that which surround behaviors, will help you get to great insights. I’m honored every day to have the opportunity to work alongside such an impressive team.

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