This week’s announcement by Viacom, Fox Networks Group and Turner that they’ve teamed to create OpenAP, an advanced audience platform for cross-publisher targeting, was met with expressions of praise and optimism by a number of heavy hitters on the buy side.
Not surprising, given that advertisers and agencies have been clamoring for solutions to enable broader implementation of more targeted television buys that use enriched audience data rather than the standard, programming context-based Nielsen age and gender demos.
One core obstacle is the plethora of different data sets and metrics currently used by various media owners’ audience-based buying programs. This not only frequently forces advertisers to recreate their target audiences for the various media; it can hinder the creation of coherent media plans and valid results comparisons (as buy-side executives pointed out in ABI earlier this month, in a look at NBCUniversal’s announcement about committing $1 billion in inventory to audience-based deals).
What We Know (And Don’t Know)
First, a recap of what’s known at present, based on a review of the announcement and subsequent news reports.
Speaking for the consortium in an open letter to the industry, Donna Speciale, president of Turner Ad Sales; Sean Moran, head of marketing and partner solutions, Viacom; and Joe Marchese, president of advanced advertising products, Fox Networks Group, promised that OpenAP will “deliver cross-publisher targeting and independent measurement for advanced audiences.”
More specifically, the promise is for an open platform that “supports industry-standard measurement sources and data, not just proprietary, walled-garden, self-governed reporting,” and can be integrated into agencies’ and advertisers’ planning and targeting systems. The platform will enable “consistently defined audience targets that can be activated across any OpenAP member publisher,” and “consistent matching for an advertiser’s custom first-party audiences in the development of cross-publisher media plans,” said the networks.
The platform will be operated by “a leading independent auditor” and will offer “truly independent measurement and reporting by design, not just reactive third-party verification,” they pledge. All of this will be within the three participating networks’ “premium content,” which reaches 93% of all television audiences, they report.
The networks stressed that they hope and expect to bring other “publishers” on board. In one report, Speciale was quoted as saying that any media outlet using C3 measurement could join the consortium.
OpenAP will serve as “a centralized digital user interface via which advertisers can log in, upload their own targeting data, cross-reference that data with other third-party data sources and put together custom audiences that can be used to target ads to specific audiences on TV and digital platforms… these data sets will be verified by a yet-to-be-named third-party measurement company,” reported The Wall Street Journal.
Other reports, however, quoted Speciale as saying that for the present, OpenAP will be limited to linear inventory, although the consortium hopes to expand it to other platforms now being used by networks to distribute their premium content.
Nor is the platform designed for actual media buys. OpenAP users won’t be able to view across the networks prices or the available inventory that fits their defined targets; they’ll still need to negotiate deals with individual media companies, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The consortium members did not specify data sources being employed by the platform, but said that it will be able to use any data set that member publishers or clients want to use.
Separately, Nielsen confirmed that it will be among the data sources used in the platform. The company issued a statement saying that it supports the consortium’s efforts “to create a clearinghouse to audit the audience-based advertising delivery of its members,” adding that its own data “measures many, if not most, of these audience-based advertising guarantees.”
Variety cited “two sources familiar with the matter” as saying that the OpenAP consortium “will work with Accenture to standardize how ads aligned with particular audience segments are purchased and to verify delivery of the commercials against their target” — but could get no confirmation from Accenture or the consortium members.
The networks said that they expect a beta test of the platform to launch by June or July, and conclude in the fall.
They also acknowledged that the new platform will come into play in their deal making discussions during the just-commencing upfront presentations.
The industry now awaits more specifics, which the consortium said will be offered to agency, client and media “influentials” during a meeting on April 7.
A Few Reactions and Questions
Reached by ABI, Michele Toller, VP offline investment and activation for Empower Media Marketing, offered “kudos to Turner, Fox and Viacom for combining forces and leading the charge to bring data-driven decisions to linear video, and using third-party sources to measure outcomes.” This “isn’t the wave of the future — it’s where we need to be today,” she stresses.
“The key with this new alliance is the standardization of measurements across such diverse properties,” notes Brendan Condon, president of AdMore, a linear programmatic platform. “If we can get the leading players in agreement on scoping audience profiles and clarifying definitions of viewers and their respective intents, then all media outlets, large and small, local and national, linear and digital, can actively participate in bigger advertising opportunities at their own levels of interest and capability.”
Tim Hanlon, CEO, The Vertere Group, also lauds the three cable networks for cooperating to try to streamline audience targeting efforts, and for “publicly joining hands to admit that the television sell side needs to up its game.” It’s “a strong signal that these major networks are stepping up to try to do a unified approach to data,” he says.
However, Hanlon adds that there are “significant asterisks” in practical terms, starting with the obvious limitation of current participation by just three networks.
Like any platform in this emerging arena, OpenAP “will have to pass the tests of transparency, data integrity, privacy patrolling and independent third-party verification,” he points out. “In addition, this is a loose consortium, and consortia are hard to manage. There is always the danger that proprietary concerns could creep in over time.”
OpenAP may represent the three networks’ approach to trying to apply more standardization within what is essentially a private marketplace, he notes, and since television inventory owners “seem to be most comfortable for now within private marketplaces, standardization there is a very good thing.”
Another agency executive also stresses the value of the concept behind the consortium. He says that rather than take a cynical view of the pragmatic limitations and the hype factor going into the upfront, he views it as good not only for the networks involved, but for raising awareness, spurring conversation and getting the industry more comfortable with audience-based buying.
This executive points out that while having “everyone” in such a consortium would obviously be the ideal for advertisers’ targeting purposes, that might also raise antitrust concerns.
He also raises several other questions. These include: “If every [audience-based targeting] deal is customizable, how can a unified standard be created? Since audience-based deals are, at least for now, currently small parts of larger, traditional deals and likely to be negotiated by higher-level executives at agencies and marketers, is such a portal really warranted right now?
“I don’t really think there’s a single solution — it’s probably a never-ending process of getting us closer to a solution,” he sums up. “Traditional television also evolved slowly, over several decades. Does anyone really know what this announcement or much of the rest of it will mean in practical terms at this point? Nope. But it’s all positive, because it’s part of the evolution.”