Viewing the Viewers
New consumer research moves closer to behavioral targeting
By Joe Mandese -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/21/2005 8:00:00 PM
In what appears to be a first in TV ratings, a major supplier of research has essentially flipped the audience-targeting process. Instead of producing viewer data based on what types of consumers watch TV shows, the new research looks at the types of people watching TV shows—and then figures out the kinds of consumers they are. The distinction may seem subtle, but it could spell big changes in the way TV networks are programmed, as well as how advertising is bought and sold.
Illustrating the process, Simmons Market Research Bureau, New York, analyzed how underweight, average-weight and obese people watch TV. American Idol indexed 58% higher than the average show among underweight viewers, it was learned, while Law & Order: Criminal Intent indexed 30% higher for obese viewers.
|Top Five Cable Networks by Viewer Categories|
|100 = average cable network
Source: Simmons Market Research Bureau’s BehaviorGraphics’ 2005 database
That’s not how things are usually done. Typically, advertisers and agencies develop profiles of consumers they want to reach with their ads, and then use audience research such as Nielsen ratings to determine which viewers most closely match their targets. The match is not exact. Nielsen uses broad demographic breaks based on age, sex, education and income. It’s then up to advertisers to figure out how well those demos correlate with the consumers they are trying to reach.
Simmons, a major provider of research to Madison Avenue, now identifies audiences according to the TV-usage behavior of viewers of certain types of shows and genres. Known as BehaviorGraphics, the system breaks viewers into 30-odd categories. Among them: “Makeover Mavens,” who are likely to watch makeover shows; “Investigators,” who are fans of news programs or crime dramas; “Family Traditions,” who favor family-oriented programming; and “Technofiles,” who like science and science fiction.
“This is a big development,” says Debbie Reichig, senior VP, sales strategy, at Court TV, one of a handful of networks to subscribe to the new data. “But it’s just a starting point.”
Simmons develops its BehaviorGraphics data by conducting original consumer surveys, in which people fill out in-depth questionnaires, generating great detail about product- and media-usage, as well as lifestyle issues ranging from politics to religion. The company integrates that data directly into Nielsen’s TV-ratings database and generates TV ratings for virtually any consumer segment.
What It Means
From a marketer’s perspective, here’s the difference. A consumer-electronics marketer seeking to reach gearheads typically would look at Nielsen’s age, sex and income demos to determine which shows and networks skew most to such consumers—presumably young men with higher incomes. Or the marketer would look at the programming genres that intuitively seem a good fit, such as Comcast’s Tech TV, which indexes 93% higher than the average cable network among the Technofile group. But BehaviorGraphics indicates that other networks actually skew higher with this demo than even Tech TV: for example, Spike, Sci Fi Channel and History Channel.
Simmons executives say they began clustering viewers because networks were curious about the types of viewers who are most loyal to various genres. And the emergence of these behavior breaks comes at a time when advertisers and agencies are embracing the concept of “behavioral targeting” in other media, mainly the Internet. Such firms as Revenue Science and Tacoda, both in New York, can generate explicit profiles of people based on their Web activity and possess technology that can serve ads directly to them based on their behavior.
Key players in the TV business are scrambling to do the same. Audience researcher ErinMedia has been trying to gain access to cable and satellite digital set-top data that would generate the same kind of behavior data. Princeton, N.J.-based technology developer Invidi is close to deploying a system that would enable advertisers to transmit ads to viewers based on viewing behavior.
When that happens, ads could be served to individual viewers or households based not on the show they happen to be watching at that moment but on their overall patterns. For instance, a die-hard sports fan who happens to be watching a home-remodeling show would be sent an ad for something sports-related, instead of a Home Depot spot.
Television’s potential on this front has marketers excited. “The sample may not be there yet,” says David Cohen, senior VP, interactive, at Universal McCann, New York, “but we would anticipate seeing the same benefit for television advertising.”
A Way To Rethink Strategies
So far, Madison Avenue has been slow to embrace Simmons’ latest findings, although the networks have utilized the data for programming and sales. “Right now, it’s more of a content thing,” says Michelle Alban, director of primary research at Telemundo. “It’s almost like looking at our viewers in 3D. We can find out what they like, what they eat, what they do and what their lifestyles [are like]. It just makes everything so much more real.”
But others see the methodology as a way to rethink ad strategies. Brad Adgate, senior VP, corporate research, at Horizon Media, New York, says consumers’ viewing habits may be more telling than the traditional demographic breaks: “It’s a little like putting the cart before the horse. [But] with all the choices that consumers have with media, we need to find better ways of targeting them.”
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