Monetization a Focus for New Disney/ABC Execs

Insights, analytics and digital products expected to create opportunities for increased revenue

Why This Matters

Media companies need ways to stay relevant and profitable as digital disrupts linear TV.

As technology continues to disrupt the traditional TV business, the Disney/ABC Television Group has decided to hire executives with background in consumer analytics and digital content to help create new strategies and revenue opportunities.

Cindy Davis was named executive VP, consumer experience last week. Davis was previously with Walmart. And John Frelinghuysen was named executive VP, digital media, strategy and business development.

Both executives are part of a plan to focus on what customers want in terms of content to create products that deliver it to them when they want it and how they want it, and monetize the additional consumption.

Walmart, a mass retailer, faces some of the same issues as Disney/ABC, a mass media company, Davis said in an interview with B&C.

“The biggest lesson I learned [at Walmart] is that all consumers don’t want the same thing, and even the same consumer wants different things at different times based on their needs,” Davis said. “The key is to have your finger on the pulse of that, so you can innovate and help deliver that to the consumer the right way.”

At Walmart, consumer research efforts go well beyond counting what shoppers buy in the store or online. “We wanted to learn about their habits, what they were doing and purchasing outside of Walmart when they weren’t shopping with us, what was really motivating them,” Davis said. “I think the same principals will apply. It will take some creativity and innovation to build the capability to do that for Disney/ABC.”

Davis added she has not had a chance to visit Disney’s media and advertising lab in Austin, Texas, but was looking forward to it. “I am a big fan of any research methodology, any research that helps us understand what customers are looking for, what engages them,” she said. The point of all this work is to be able to “deliver the programming that audience [is] looking for in a way that’s most effective and relevant for them.”

That doesn’t mean going over-the-top or direct to the consumer with a Disney product line, à la CBS’ All Access, Davis said. She noted Disney COO Tom Stagg’s recent statements that it supports the pay-TV bundle. “The company continues to be committed to our partners and evolving as consumer needs evolve in the future,” Davis said.

Walmart serves its customers at what she called “the intersection of physical and digital,” by letting people shop online and pick up items at the store. “Combining our assets in a way that best serves the customers is what we’ve been doing at Walmart. I look forward to helping Disney do that as well.”

Finding methods of monetizing these new ways of meeting consumer needs will be another part of Davis’ job.

Improved consumer insights and analytics will no doubt help Disney’s ad business. “Most advertisers are very focused on knowing as much as they possibly can about the consumer so they can do an even better job of delivering the right message to those customers,” Davis said. Among the Disney execs she has met is Geri Wang, president of ad sales for ABC. “We’ll work closely together,” Davis said.

Monetization will also be important to Frelinghuysen as he develops digital strategies and products. As digital has grown, traditional media companies have been wary of seeing the analog dollars turn into digital dimes.

But Frelinghuysen, most recently AOL senior VP in charge of strategy, argues that’s a false trade-off. “Digital is about deepening the consumer relationship, helping someone discover programming they wouldn’t have found and getting people to engage with brands or shows they love with more use occasions,” he said.

Mobile will be an important area. “We certainly need to be in mobile,” he said. “If you look at how much time is spent on mobile devices, especially among younger-age consumers, it’s critical we be there in a big way.”

What kinds of content will work in mobile? “The data suggests that mobile is driving a lot of short-form consumption,” Frelinghuysen said. “There are big opportunities for companies like Disney/ABC to be playing more in short-form, whether that’s original direct-to-digital or spinoffs, outtakes, things like that.”

There may be long-form opportunities also. “The brands that Disney brings will translate very well to these devices, and the tentpole or marquee shows that Disney has will also translate well,” Frelinghuysen added.