“If you build it, they will come,” the mysterious voice in the sky repeatedly told Kevin Costner in the 1989 classic film Field of Dreams.
The phrase has turned into a widely applied cliché, but it seems to apply nicely to the broadcast TV industry. In the case of TV, it’s not a baseball field that needs to be built; it’s an audience. And it’s not a bunch of long-dead baseball players ready to play ball that will come; it’s advertisers ready to pay for 15 to 60 seconds of the attention of that audience.
The broadcast industry has always worked like that, right? Broadcasters create content and advertisers come anxious to pay for ad spots. Well, you might argue it used to work like that, but it’s not so straight forward anymore. As technologies and media options have advanced and expanded, the broadcast industry has taken on new levels of complexity.
Advances in station data have changed the industry
One element that has made the TV industry more complex is station data. The days of digests are nearly gone. Very few stations have to wait two weeks (the previous norm) to get their viewership data. Set top box technology, connected TVs, smart TVs, and other technology advances have introduced a slew of TV analytics sources. Thanks to these automated digital collection methods, stations can have viewership data in their hands a day after, or in some cases minutes after, a program airs.
With these advances in station data, advertisers don’t look to advertise with the broadcasters that can simply build an audience. They go to the ones that can put their ads in front of a target audience. They go to the ones that can prove the efficacy of their ads. In short, advertisers go to the broadcasters that have, and understand, data. Device-level viewership data, competitor viewership data, specific viewer demographic data–stations have it at all their finger tips now, and the more a station has, the better.
I think the phrase that would fit the TV industry more accurately today is, “If you build it, they will come … but not until you have data.”
Data fuels precision advertising
The more data a station has, the more targeted its ad inventory. Using the data available to stations today, a media sales person could offer ad spots that reach a precise audience. For example, an auto dealership might want to target college-aged women with a small sedan ad. A station sales person could review viewership data on all the station’s programs–even data from programs that ran that day–and ensure that the sedan ad aired in front of as many college-aged women as possible.
Data drives precision, and precision equals less waste. Traditional spray-and-pray TV advertising might work for some brands, but most advertisers jump on the chance to target their ads. Imagine the waste that occurs every time an ad gets shown to an irrelevant audience. A super-duty diesel pickup truck ad would likely have little effect if aired in a program watched primarily by college-aged women. Using the right data, a station can form deeper relationships with advertisers, help them avoid waste, and ultimately generate more ad dollars.
Baseball fields and TV data
Kevin Costner did as the mysterious voice told him and turned his cornfield into a baseball diamond. It required a lot of faith and momentary lunacy, but ghost players came and everyone had a grand ole time.
Broadcasters, you don’t need to have faith or put anything on the line. The ad industry already has proof that having and understanding data will attract advertiser dollars. Look at digital advertising. The whole appeal of digital is its data, and, subsequently, its targetability.
TV data capabilities have begun to mirror those of digital advertising, but stations have to see it that way for it to make a difference. Once stations fully take advantage of the data available to them, they will start to see the advertisers gather with their wallets wide open.