Research Plays Prominent Role At Upfront Events



Research has long been a staple of upfront presentations. Network executives might tout how their ratings are soaring among beer-drinking men ages 25 to 54. Or, cite data about how viewers stayed tuned to the programming longer at 10 p.m. than competitors.

That type of spin is still around. But in a sign of how much advertiser hunger to demonstrate ROI and follow consumers to new platforms has increased, research in many forms seems to be increasingly finding its way into network recruitment.

Take the Turner presentation on Wednesday. Steve Koonin, who oversees TBS and TNT, spoke about “harnessing the power of big data,” while mentioning a new research initiative tabbed “Athena.” (Presumably, it will be more successful than another measurement effort named after a Greek mythological figure, the failed Project Apollo.)

Koonin also spoke about moving beyond traditional demographics (age and gender) when evaluating where to place ad dollars. The matter is close to Turner's heart with Conan O'Brien drawing ratings below competitors, but impressive social media activity. 

On Tuesday, ABC announced a project with Nielsen to measure video in mobile apps. At its presentation, ad sales chief Geri Wang emphasized the network will be aggressive in multi-platform ad sales, while also looking for a way to track omni-channel viewing.

“Our goal is complete cross-screen measurement – validation for your full investment,” she told advertisers.

With ABC and Turner positioning themselves as multi-screen video providers (rather than TV networks), the industry’s need to establish a currency for cross-platform measurement would seem to be intensified. At ABC, Wang said the on-demand audience is up 20% in the past year.

“More and more, this is how younger viewers are watching our shows,” she said. “They are the future of ABC and the future of your brands.”

(On Monday, NBCUniversal sales chief Linda Yaccarino noted the company’s research chief, Alan Wurtzel, is working to upgrade cross-platform measurement.)

The importance of getting a currency in place with a single aggregated rating soon might be a benefit to Nielsen. While another provider might have an impressive multi-screen service, networks are well-acquainted with Nielsen. And urgency is likely to breed familiarity. On a basic level, Nielsen already is the TV standard, so a wholesale switch to another company just seems unlikely.

Still, industry interest in mining other providers' data would appear to be growing. There is ample room for research to play an advisory role, if for no other reason than there is a difference between strategizing and negotiating.

Even if bargaining takes place based on Nielsen figures, all those other research companies could arm planners and buyers with information to game the system. In other words, ways to find the right rating points at the best prices.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) might soon bring some help to advertisers in determining where to spend. Along with analytics company MarketShare, it’s launching a competition to find the “most effective application of analytics to benchmark and improve marketing ROI.”

A $50,000 prize awaits the winner, which will be an individual or team working at an ANA member. So, a savior won't be operating out of a Harvard dorm room, but more likely a sprawling corporate campus.

The winner will be unveiled at an October conference. Current and former CMOs and academicians will be among the judges.  

Just like many upfront presentations this week, the award is a signal of just how important media research has become.

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