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Upfronts 2013: Simulmedia FindingViewers in Odd Places

Complete Coverage: Upfronts 2013

You wouldn't think you could find video gamers by buying commercials on normally old-skewing Hallmark Movie Channel, or that you could find large numbers of Hispanic viewers through English-language programming by buying into billiards shows on ESPN in late night or early morning.

But if you crunch enough data, you’ll find surprising pockets of viewers in certain dayparts on unlikely networks, according to Dave Morgan, president of Simulmedia, which is building a business out of fragmentation, even as fragmentation threatens broadcasters and larger cable networks.

Five-year-old Simulmedia has put together an unwired, ad-hoc group of about 40 cable networks and seven of the top eight cable operators, allowing it to cherry-pick spots that might otherwise be overlooked or unwanted. Their audiences are generally small but highly concentrated, with viewers that meet a client’s target market.

This year for the first time, agencies are calling in Simulmedia while doing their upfront planning. While the company doesn’t have the kind of inventory that drives upfront buys, agencies have begun to realize that Simulmedia can complement the schedules they buy from broadcast and cable networks.

“They know if they can reach enough of this audience with Simulmedia, they can afford to buy this and this from the broadcast networks in prime and package them together,” Morgan says. “We are getting some long-term commitments.”

Morgan says that Simulmedia’s approach is a lot like the one described in Moneyball, the way some baseball teams look for low-salaried players with skills that are overlooked but contribute to winning. “There are plenty of hours in the day when there are more women watching Syfy then men,” Morgan says. “There are hours in the day when there are more men watching Oxygen than women.”

For a video-game client like a Microsoft Xbox, Simulmedia triangulates viewer data from 50 million set-top boxes, Nielsen demographic data and MRI consumer survey data. “We find this video gamer occurring in non-intuitive places,” Morgan says. “We find the needle in the haystack, and then we aggregate them by the ton.”

It takes a lot of these needles to make a ton. Morgan says a Simulmedia campaign might consist of 2,000 different spots, each reaching 20,000 gamers. Buying all those spots might displace 10 broadcast spots from a traditional media buy, but it gives the client an extra five or 10 points of ratings reach against the target at an efficient price.

Morgan says Simulmedia doesn’t disclose how much money it spends, but he notes some of its campaigns deliver as much as 40-60 gross ratings points against a target in a week. That’s the equivalent of buying a dozen or so spots on a top show like American Idol.

For traditional agencies, buying that many spots would be a labor-intensive burden, but Morgan says that “because we came out of the digital world, we automated all of that. The idea of making the phone calls to move those spots, have them delivered, verify them, confirm them, pull data and post them would be a lot of work. We’re able to do that 90% automated and 10% the old-fashioned way.”