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CBS Finds New Broadcast Model ‘Under the Dome’

When David Poltrack, veteran research guru for CBS, says broadcast TV is back these days, he’s got the data to prove it.

Poltrack last week made his annual presentation on the outlook for broadcast at UBS’ Media and Communications Conference for Investors and used CBS’ hit summer series Under the Dome as a prime example of ways in which the TV business is changing.

Summer was the first foothold cable networks claimed as they began to make a mark with original programming. Broadcasters couldn’t afford to counter with anything other than reruns and cheap reality shows—until now. CBS covered production costs for Under the Dome by tapping a burgeoning overseas market and by selling streaming rights to the series to Amazon, and got a hit.

Poltrack said that across platforms—live broadcasts, DVR, VOD, streaming video—Under the Dome attracted 16.7 million viewers. Increasingly, CBS is able to monetize viewers watching the show via non-traditional channels.

But Poltrack said that in order to continue to invest in summer programming, CBS will need to get advertisers to pay a premium above normal summer commercial rates.

“So we made an unprecedented research commitment,” Poltrack said. “We decided to measure the audience response of every ad in the program and compare that response to the established norms and the performance of the same ad in other programs.”

CBS hired Nielsen’s IAG unit to analyze the viewer engagement generated by the show and the commercials that aired in it.

It turned out that Under the Dome was an especially powerful vehicle for movie marketers. During its run, 11 spots for 11 different films appeared, and those ads delivered results significantly higher than when the same ads aired in other broadcast shows or on cable. The ads in Under the Dome were 58% higher in title recall and 33% higher in creating viewers who said they were “very likely” to see the picture than ads in other programs. Spots in Under the Dome scored stronger results for every one of the 11 films.

And, Poltrack said, the show worked not just for movie advertisers but for sponsors in every category, including consumer packaged goods and a variety of retailers.

While engagement and recall usually result in higher sales, CBS used new single-source research techniques to determine actual product consumption by Under the Dome audiences.

Under the Dome viewers showed aboveaverage activity for every advertiser, from Pizza Hut to Netflix to Wal-Mart,” Poltrack said.

Take McDonald’s: When the fast-food giant’s ads aired in Under The Dome, they scored higher than normal recall and awareness scores. More importantly, Under the Dome viewers who saw McDonald’s ads spent more under the Golden Arches—$27.41 per trip—than viewers who saw the ads in primetime on other networks (between $25.93 and $26.13 per trip).

“I provided this case history for two reasons,” Poltrack said. “First, it demonstrates how we are able to use these new research and analytic tools to confirm the power of broadcast network advertising for our clients. And second, to demonstrate how the new economics of television are allowing us to add high-quality original programming to our lineup in a cost-effective manner.”

Golden Opportunity

Poltrack asserts broadcast is in a new Golden Age, with a stable competitive situation in traditional TV distribution and a dominant position in new video distribution markets. “There are new media evaluation metrics that differentiate the broadcast network programs from the competition in terms of advertising value and ROI for the advertiser; a changing market structure that supports the investment in more high-quality original scripted programming; an emerging social media ally that enhances the marketing and viewer engagement of the network programming; and a growing connected second-screen viewer base that allows the broadcast network access to the coupon and promotion market, the search market and the direct-response market,” he said.

Next summer, CBS will be coming back with another season of Under the Dome; another original series, Extant; and miniseries The Dovekeepers.

“Changes in the television distribution system are allowing the networks to produce miniseries, original quality summer programs and special event programs such as last week’s live broadcast of The Sound of Music on NBC,” Poltrack said. “These are the types of programs that the critics were saying were gone for good from network television.”