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Networks Agree to Continue 'Thor' Ad Effectiveness Project

Needing a hero in a stormy media environment, the TV business is turning to Project Thor, named after the comic book hero God of Thunder.

Forty ad sales executives representing most of the major TV content companies on Friday heard a presentation from analytics company Data Plus Math on an attribution platform it has developed that uses sophisticated data to show the contribution various forms of media have on client product sales.

The companies—including ABC, A+E Networks, AMC Networks, CBS, The CW, ESPN, Fox, Discovery Communications, Crown Media’s Hallmark channels, Turner and Viacom—agreed to continue to work together to investigate the platform—dubbed Project Thor—for potential 2018 activation, according to Sean Cunningham, CEO of the Video Advertising Bureau, a trade group that aims to highlight the value of video advertising.

The companies are working together because they expect the platform to enumerate how much premium multi-screen video contributes within ad spending patterns at a time when marketers’ spending on TV advertising is flat to shrinking and digital advertising is growing. The platform can also predict the results of marketing plans using different media mixes.

The group believes that if it gives advertisers credible numbers that show how effective TV is, they’ll double down on TV.

Cunningham said it is not necessary for the companies to work together to introduce Thor to marketers. “We can do this with just a handful of players, but we think it works better with wider participation,” he says.

The networks won’t be making an investment in Data Plus Math. Instead, Data Plus Math would remain a third-party data and analytics provider. That way it is more likely to have credibility with marketers.

It remains to be seen how much teamwork the industry can muster in this effort. Earlier this year, Turner, Fox and Viacom got together to form Open AP to standardize audience buying, but no other programmer have announced that they’ve joined the consortium.

Data Plus Math was founded in 2016 by CEO John Hoctor, who spoke at the meeting and Chief Technology Officer Matthew Emans. They worked together at Integral Reach, which was acquired by Rovi in 2013 and became Rovi Analytics, and at Navic, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2008. Hoctor has degrees from MIT; Emans is a Harvard man.

 “Video today is complicated.  We help simplify it with new metrics and advanced analytics solutions,” the Data Plus Math says on its website.

“Not only are they first-class data scientists, they really get the television market well,” Cunningham says.

Cunningham says Thor works better than the marketing mix models many clients already employ because of the rich data the TV companies can bring to the party.

Some of that data comes from Nielsen and comScore, which are cooperating in the project, Cunningham says.

Thor is not seen as replacement for audience measurement or the current types of currencies used to buy and sell media. The platform works and can evaluate a campaign’s effectiveness whether it is based on traditional demographics or on the audience targeting that is becoming increasingly popular in the TV business.

“The advertisers are asking for sophisticated data solution and [the TV business] is coming back and saying here’s sophisticated data,” Cunningham says.

For years, both TV executives and most clients have maintained their belief that TV advertising has a strong impact on product sales. Cunningham expects Thor to verify that.

“We know what the answer is going to be when the data is revealed,” he says. “They know the same thing, they know it works and it does a lot of the heaving lifting. In this environment it’s good to have proof that’s right.”

That would be a marked contrast to some of the digital players, who have been criticized for pushing numbers that have turned out to be overstated. In some cases, when overstated digital numbers have been uncovered advertisers have gotten refunds.