All Together Now

In an industry better known for shark tanks than think tanks, MPG’s Collaborative Alliance nurtures industry cooperation — and breakthrough research

volvo_mewi13.jpgA sandwich can be a powerful lure to those in the ad business.

When the sandwich comes with fresh research and new insight — even better.

That’s what more than 300 executives in the agency, marketing, TV, research and technology business get four times a year from the Collaborative Alliance, a think tank founded by MPG executive Mitch Oscar. The Collaborative Alliance lives under the auspices of MPG’s innovation umbrella and has had one of its most productive years.

During Advertising Week in October, the Collaborative Alliance session was one of the week’s most attended events. Also this year, the Collaborative Alliance partnered with MediaOcean on a project to improve workflow for buying, trafficking and billing on video across platforms, helped drive the acceptance of set-top box data as a currency during the TV upfront negotiations, created the first VOD directory for the business, supported the launch of dynamic ad insertion with Comcast’s FearNet and MPG client Volvo, researched the hotly-debated kids ratings decline, and studied social TV.


Any of these accomplishments alone would be noteworthy. That they came from one group that links MPG and other agencies, as well as measurement firms, technology startups and program-mers — all working together by choice — is even more impressive. The Collaborative Alliance has become both a force to be reckoned with in the ad innovation world as well as an oasis to explore new ideas and possibilities.

“The Collaborative Alliance is one of those rare instances when all of the various entities of the business can get together to learn from one another, share experiences and — not to sound too grandiose — raise the overall quality of media research and how it can benefit the industry,” says Alan Wurtzel, President of Research and Media Development for NBCUniversal, who presented cross-platform data from NBC Olympics coverage at a Collaborative Alliance meeting. “I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in some of their meetings and I found the quality of the audience and the level of questions and discussion to be both personally gratifying and professionally valuable. And they serve a great lunch.”

Other network researchers have come to rely on the Collaborative Alliance too. “Our participation in the Collaborative Alliance has provided a beneficial opportunity to share our research and for our research professionals to learn from the innovative insights of others,” says Jack Wakshlag, Chief Research Officer at Turner Broadcasting.


Reshaping Ad Campaigns
The Collaborative Alliance started at MPG in 2008 as a think tank, and it also now guides research projects and some ad campaigns. For instance, MPG brought its Fidelity client to partici-pate in a campaign in early 2012 that used set-top box data from 8 million Rentrak homes as the measurement benchmark, marking one of the first times a TV buy was guaranteed by national Rentrak data. “That gave the marketer a deeper look into a larger group of homes. The data gave us insight into the schedule and then we reallocated some dollars [for the client] towards different networks because of the data and the guarantee,” Oscar says.

The group has also pushed VOD efforts, including bringing Volvo on board with FearNet for the first implementation of dynamic ad insertion into VOD programming, which lets the network drop in fresh creative during the campaign. Other VOD work came from a steering group within the Collaborative Alliance that assembled a directory of more than 200 VOD networks by genre to allow for easier buying of VOD programs. That directory lives with the 4As, AdMonsters and MediaOcean. “If you’re a buyer and you’re buying kids, for instance, this lets you know which ones and which shows are on VOD,” Oscar says.

The Collaborative Alliance has also assumed a research role in the ad industry. During the heated debate about Nickelodeon’s ratings dip at the start of 2012, the group tackled the issue by studying data across several sources including Nielsen, Tivo and Rentrak. The goal was to learn which networks were gaining and losing share. “We found that kids’ ratings weren’t diminishing overall and a lot of the kids’ networks picked up audience that Nickelodeon was losing, and that was one of the things that people in the industry wanted to know. We saw how Nickelodeon did over the three services, and found that the ratings were going to other networks [not just to online or Netflix], and that Disney was the dominant beneficiary, but it was also spread over other networks,” Oscar says.

In addition, the Collabo-rative Alliance took on the mantel of understanding social buzz and TV ratings. Via a group that included three social TV measurement services working together in BlueFin, Trendrr and General Sentiment, the think tank analyzed whether there were any alignments between the top-ten buzzed-about shows and the top-ten Nielsen shows. They learned that the top ten in each category rarely lined up, so the study raised more questions about the interplay between social and TV ratings. This insight was also shared at the 4As conference

“The Collaborative Alliance brings a smart group of innovative industry leaders together to share information, tackle the big cross-platform measurement issues and compare notes on best prac-tices. We all drop our competitive hats and come together with a common purpose driving all of our work — to better serve the media industry and the advertisers that support it,” says Meghann Sills Elrhoul, Trendrr’s VP of client services and analytics. “There is a real sense of innovation and camaraderie among its members because, while some may compete for dollars outside the alliance, all are working to tackle the same big measurement issues and opportunities.” 


Taking a break from competition

To check your ego at the door sounds good in theory. But the mission of the group is to drive change by sharing, rather than competing. That’s a bit of a kumbaya strategy, but it seems to be working given the turnout and the reception the Collaborative Alliance has gotten over the years.

Oscar says the work has helped move the industry forward in a variety of ways, from VOD innovation to opening the dialogue about how to measure social TV. The goal of the group’s research projects isn’t to uncover a new proprietary insight. It’s to better understand the market and share that insight with anyone in the business. As an example, one of the most recent Collaborative Alliance meetings included a presentation by MPG’s EVP Research Joe Abruzzo on “informing the TV buy” that showcased different ways to apply new measurement tools from companies such as Simulmedia, Rentrak, Collective, TRA, BlueFin and Trendrr.

“One of the things the Collaborative Alliance can do that I don’t know that others can do is when people donate their data, we can then put something in front of the broader community that they don’t usually get to see,” Oscar says. “The alliance was originally a way to share information publicly to move innovation along. Now it’s become a place where we also take a look at these things like set-top box data or social TV data and compare them and then share that with the group and the industry.” 

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