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Networks Using Big Data to Drive Big Ratings | @jlafayette

This Premiere Week, broadcast networks will be relying more heavily on big data to find ways to remind viewers to watch the new fall shows. The networks need to because the competition for viewer attention is tougher and the reach of on-air promo spots is shrinking. Plus, there’s a new type of viewer to target—those who spend most of their TV time watching shows on a time-shifted basis. Season premieres begin the week of Sept. 16 on Fox; ABC, CBS and NBC follow a week later.

Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, which works with four of the five big broadcast nets, expects promotional spending to be up 5%-10%. And he expects an even bigger jump in targeted spending. “We’re up three times from last year,” Morgan says.

Simulmedia has created a publicly available database of how promo campaigns have performed, partly to allow clients to see how they’re doing, but also to send a message. “This is no longer guesswork,” Morgan says. “We want to make sure everybody knows that this season you’ll be able to measure promotion on an actual [return-on-investment] basis.”

Simulmedia not only measures performance of campaigns after they run, but it claims it can predict how many viewers it can recruit and how much that will cost. “We have a lot of confidence since we have a lot of numbers,” says Morgan. Last year, Simulmedia began offering clients guarantees on how its targeted promotions would perform, and “we haven’t had to give back money yet.”

Morgan says nets will do more promos aimed at viewers who watch shows on a delayed basis. While they watch less primetime live, there are patterns nets can take advantage of. “Delayed viewers tend to work outside the home and have school-age children. They watch early in the morning and late at night,” he says. “You need to target them deeper into cable because they watch a lot of networks and tend to be more discriminating.”

Getting sampling at the beginning of the season has never been more important, according to Morgan. “Last year, most folks who looked at the data after the fact realized that the big drop in broadcast ratings in the beginning of the season was because there were so many new shows, not just on broadcast but on cable too. People never got a chance to catch up.”

The Early Bird

And if you don’t get viewers early, you’ll never get them. The nets have itchier trigger fingers about cancelling low-rated shows, and viewers won’t even record shows they suspect won’t survive a full season.

Simulmedia uses data from 50 million households to figure out what people watch and when. The company has partnership deals with distributors that can insert ads and deals with about 35 national cable networks. Simulmedia delivers bundles of ads in the right shows at the right time to reach viewers interested in, say, a new crime procedural airing at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday.