Viacom's Competitive Vantage

One of the cool things about modern people is, we’ve figured out how to use machines to process data to identify patterns that give us a competitive advantage. Another cool thing is that we can still identify important data the old-fashioned way, by feeling it in the world around us. Today’s TV Watch is about both kinds of data, but mostly the second.

The data I’m referring to was organic information in the voice of Philippe Dauman while he was briefing analysts on Viacom’s third-quarter earnings this morning. In particular, the way he sounded when he spoke about how Viacom was leveraging data to identify what advertisers really want: people they want to market to.

The data in Dauman’s voice cannot be put into a database, or processed with an algorithm. The data is difficult for me to put into words, so I recommend you feel it yourself by listening to his remarks. But if I had to put words around it, I’d say it was “enthusiastic,” almost “giddy,” like he had stumbled on some good fortune.



If anyone could afford to stumble on some of that, it’s Dauman, because the poor guy has been putting out fires almost as long as he has been CEO of Viacom, once the poster child of premium media, and now all too frequently the brunt of tabloid and trade headlines.

First it was the downward spiral of its Nielsen ratings, then the trajectory in ad revenues that inevitably followed. But lately the boardroom drama involving Dauman and Viacom founder Sumner Redstone is what’s really put him on the firing line. And how, this morning, he remained calm and composed while securities analysts grilled him on that drama and his efforts to turn Viacom’s fortunes around, I don’t know.

He did sound a bit weary, even frustrated, but still collected and in-charge. Still, when he spoke about how Viacom is leveraging data to help turn things around, he sounded, well, earnestly optimistic.

“A mix of new currencies is really kicking in,” he gushed.

That mix includes Viacom’s Vantage platform, which leverages proprietary data its properties have on the audiences they reach, with other data -- including advertisers’ own “first-party” data -- to help them identify the audiences they most want to reach.

Tellingly, Dauman said Madison Avenue's embrace of Vantage has proven a competitive advantage, and exceeded the company’s own internal expectations.

Talking about the recently concluded upfront TV advertising marketplace, Dauman said, “We expected to triple the number of Vantage deals from last year to this, and we exceeded that goal,” adding that when all is said and done, Viacom will have done “35-40” upfront deals based on its Vantage analytics.

Now here’s the significant part. According to Dauman, “significantly more than half” of those upfront deals Viacom negotiated with advertisers using Vantage were based not on an advertising currency of Nielsen ratings, but on its rival comScore’s.

That’s significant for many reasons, but mostly because it is an example of major advertising buys shifting from Nielsen to comScore, which got into the TV ratings business when it acquired Nielsen rival Rentrak.

Agencies have been incorporating Rentrak, now comScore, data for years. They use it to plan, and increasingly as the basis for TV buys, both nationally and locally.

I’ve written before about the push Dennis Holt’s U.S. International Media has been making with Sinclair and Tribune to use comScore data as the basis of local TV audience-based buys.

One of the problems with using the Rentrak data to date has been that it’s based on digital set-top data measuring channel tuning in households, but not who was watching in those households. But during one of USIM’s Mitch Oscar’s “Secret Society” meetings, comScore Chief Research Officer Josh Chasin said the company was close to releasing a product that will estimate the “VPVHs,” or viewers-per-viewing household.

That data, he said, was being derived by modeling information comScore has via its humongous digital consumer panels and factoring the TV set-top ratings data by it, to compute VPVHs advertisers can use to understand what demographics they are reaching.

Chasin said that solution would be available to the marketplace soon. He also said some other things, which I plan to write about in a different column, because this one is mainly about the sound in Phillipe Dauman’s voice when he spoke about how Viacom was leveraging data like comScore’s -- not to mention real customer purchasing data from American Express -- to shed new light on the audiences advertisers can reach via Viacom’s properties.

It signals “a welcome market shift to alternative currency,” he boasted.

2 comments about "Viacom's Competitive Vantage".
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  1. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, August 4, 2016 at 3:55 p.m.

    Models are great tools, but need to be tested with a data set independent of the ones used to build the model.  Would love to see how the model will fit with data that says it was within 1% for y percent of programs or spots, within 5% for z number of programs or spots etc.   was within 1% for x percent of actual ad schedules etc.  Averaging dayparts or networks won't do. 

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 4, 2016 at 4:14 p.m.

    Quite right, Jack. Also, it will be interesting to see how close the new comScore viewers-per-home estimates come to Nielsen's"single source" data on a show by show basis, as well as overall daypart or program genre averages. If the two are close, comScore will have done something that others have, so far, failed to do. I hope it works out but let's see the proof in detail not broadstrokes.

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