The TV Efficiency Revolution

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Get ready for campaigns to scrutinize TV budgets like never before


Coming out of the 2012 presidential election, big data was the talk of the town. It has caused a wave of change, resulting in organizations building technology, acquiring data and learning the statistical software R—a free software for statistical computing and graphics.

Caught up in this wave is how the biggest line item in any campaign budget is being scrutinized: television.

Traditionally, TV is the largest piece of any campaign budget, and for the first time its effectiveness in reaching voters was being questioned. Most campaigns have relied on a gross rating point (GRP) model to determine reach and frequency of a television buy. The Obama campaign made an effort to change this model by using the “optimizer” to find what persuadable voters were watching across hundreds of television networks.

This new strategy dramatically changed the way they bought television. Instead of trying to reach an arbitrary goal of 1000 GRPs, they sought out persuadable voters across 100 different television channels. This allowed the campaign to capture new audiences not found using traditional methods. It’s a strategy that a campaign of any size can adopt if it’s concerned with reaching persuadable voters.

From a cable industry perspective, this new strategy was unique and forward thinking. The Obama campaign’s effort reinforced the notion that targeting can be done effectively on television. It also confirmed that campaigns need to buy a variety of niche targeted networks if they want to reach their persuadable voters on TV. Reach doesn’t always translate into what program has the largest rating. It is the expanded number of networks or programs that provide the largest reach within your persuadable target, not reaching the same voter over and over again by advertising in the same shows.

Early evidence suggests this thought process is permeating the political community.  An examination of NCC Media data from 2013 revealed that cable spending is up 20 percent as compared to a similar election period in 2009—an increase easily attributed to an overall increase in political advertising. However, NCC’s analysis of Kantar Media data shows broadcast down almost 30 percent in revenue from 2013 versus 2009. NCC’s analysis of cable usage also noticed a change in the number of networks used and what time of day commercials ran.

In 2010, NCC media ran 72 percent of the 8.4 million commercials for all political business in the top-rated networks. These included news networks (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC), top entertainment and sports networks (ESPN, TNT, TBS and USA), and lifestyle (HGTV, History and Food). In 2012, 65 percent of the 9 million commercials were in the top-rated networks, and through September of 2013 it was sitting at 64 percent.

The data shows campaigns are choosing to buy lower-rated networks that have specific audiences, instead of the top-rated ones. On several fronts, campaigns are focusing more on entertainment and lifestyle programming instead of traditional local news.

First, time of day has become a focus of cable buys. Traditionally, cable is bought during the primetime period. The early morning, daytime and late night areas are now seeing an increase in usage, expanding the reach and effectiveness of the buy. Second, cable offers a wide variety of sports and original programming, and campaigns are trying to take advantage of these opportunities to add additional reach they had been missing in the past.

All of these changes are pointing to a new way of thinking about buying. They are challenging agencies to be smarter, work harder and think outside the box.

The availability of individual viewing data (Cablevision, Rentrak, Fourthwall Media), produced from cable and satellite set top boxes, are providing a clearer picture of how and what voters are watching across specific programs and networks. As viewing data becomes more available, buyers will be able to set aside some of the guesswork that resulted from small, self-reported diaries.

As data and technology start to make great improvements in how campaigns segment their largest expenditure, it is important to maintain certain methodologies and standards. NCC is striving to keep the integrity of set top box data and maintain standards that continue to improve targeting on cable.

The goal for NCC, and the cable industry, is to take the lead in developing new tools that tap into data sources (NSI, Scarborough, MRI, voter data, and set top box) to help campaigns reach persuadable voters.

Tim Kay is the director of political strategy for NCC Media.


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