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Google and Facebook’s Fail May be Television’s Win 

Family watching TV
(Image credit: FreePik)

If you’re still wondering why the Banning Surveillance Advertising Act was introduced in Congress, you need to look no further than the front page of Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal.

Alan Wolk

(Image credit: Alan Wolk)

On one side, there was an article about how Facebook lied about promising free data to users in India, Pakistan and other emerging markets.

On the other side, an article on how the attorneys general of several states were filing lawsuits against Google, accusing it of deceiving users about location tracking. 

Big Tech Is a Popular Target

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have quickly figured out that bashing tech giants is as popular with voters as proposing lower taxes, and if anything has a chance for bipartisan support these days, it’s bills like this one.

That’s bad news for Alphabet and Meta, whose founders also don’t seem to get that to most consumers, their new corporate names seem as ludicrous as one of those fake-nose-and-eyeglasses disguises. 

Yes, Facebook. We know it’s still you.

Good for TV?

One possible beneficiary of the bill (and/or others like it) is the television industry … if it remembers to play its cards right.

TV advertising does not currently rely on the sort of data that the bill is targeting.

Unlike Google, TV networks don’t have an email service they can comb through for clues about your behavior. And unlike Facebook, they don’t have a list of which brands you’ve liked or who your friends are.

Mostly, TV is still relying on extrapolations from Nielsen panels.

That’s rapidly changing, however, as more and more television is watched over broadband via smart TVs whose ACR data can help identify, on a second-by-second basis, which shows and ads the viewer has seen by matching pixels grabbed from the TV screen with a database of programming and advertising.

That data is coming in from opted-in viewers. And, as a recent study from Hub Research shows, those viewers don’t seem to mind that advertisers have their data: only 16% of those surveyed disliked the idea of TV ad targeting based on personal information, while 28% reacted favorably.  

And when asked what sort of data they’d be willing to share in order to see more relevant TV commercials, a full 61% said they would be happy to share data about the shows they watched.

That said, there are still potential pitfalls.

While consumers may consent to sharing their viewing data, it’s important to ensure that they understand that their device IDs and IP addresses may also be used to target advertising and to collect attribution data.

The TV industry further needs to sort out what permissions it needs from households to ensure privacy: for instance, is the permission of one member of the household enough, or is it necessary to get permission from all adult household members.

The good news is that none of these privacy tweaks are that difficult in that they are unlikely to significantly impact the TV industry’s ability to collect data. Rather, they just add a layer of transparency that will make it easier to gain consumers' trust.

One thing I have found in speaking with consumers on various projects over the years is that there is a much looser set of expectations around TV data. In a world where it is assumed that Google and Facebook are tracking everything from your messages and emails to your financial data, the idea that someone may know you watch Yellowstone and the NFL Playoffs does not seem very worrisome or invasive.

What’s more, viewers tend to see benefits to having their viewing tracked. They feel their favorite shows might not get cancelled if someone knows they’re watching … or that they might get better program recommendations and, hope of all hopes, more relevant commercials. 

So there’s all that, which is why most consumers consent to sharing their viewing habits. And then there is the ability to target TV commercials based on the context of the show rather than any personal data about consumers.

For some time now, the notion of using contextual targeting has been gaining traction as advertisers worry that the sort of programmatic tactics common online would lead to their ads being placed on shows that were inappropriate for the brand.

Just because your target is watching a certain show doesn’t mean they want to hear from you during that show. Or that they want to see a funny commercial in the middle of a gripping drama. Being able to place ads against certain types of programming creates a stronger connection and makes the ads more effective. And, even better, does not require anyone to give up personal information.

Transparency Is Key

TV still needs some personal information though in order to be able to understand who is watching what, both ads and shows. 

For shows, it means a way to better understand the type of programming that is resonating and which audiences it is resonating with at a time when there is more competition for viewer attention than ever before.

For advertisers, it means using data to gain a better understanding of an ads effectiveness. That means not just knowing exactly how many people saw an ad, but how many watched it all the way through, how many abandoned it halfway through, and, most important of all, how many went on to take an action—visiting a website, going to a store—as a result of seeing that ad, and which services, times of day and genres were most likely to drive them to do so.

That data will be attainable if the TV industry learns from the mistakes of the tech industry. Transparency and honesty count for a lot and are considered proof of good intentions.

Combine that with the power of sight, sound and motion to create an emotional connection with the viewer, and you have a very strong argument for the continued value of television advertising in a time when consumer privacy is under the spotlight.

Alan Wolk is the co-founder and lead analyst for media consultancy TV[R]EV