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The Nuances of Audience Strategy in Linear and Advanced TV

Most marketers can agree that personalization is critical in today’s advertising. Consumers expect brands to know who they are, and personalized approaches help marketers spend ad dollars wisely.

To deliver those personalized experiences in any vertical requires strong audience and first-party data strategies. However, the entertainment vertical, especially in television, has unique nuances and challenges to navigate. Whether it’s advanced or linear TV, marketers need to factor several considerations into their audience approach.

TV networks need to deliver on certain demographics in linear

Television networks uniquely operate on both the sell and buy side of advertising, with the sell side responsible for most of their revenue. To sell their advertising space to brands, networks promise to deliver a certain number of viewers that fall into a particular demographic, typically based on age. That, in turn, drives the goals for marketers buying media on the network’s behalf.

How does one deliver in that environment? A few steps and considerations will drive the approach for meeting a network’s linear TV goals.

  1. Calculate the gap. For any existing TV show, we can get a rough sense of how many viewers will reliably tune in week after week. Those viewers don’t necessarily need as much incremental exposure to advertising to influence their behavior as other potential viewers. Note that this doesn’t need to be a two-bucket split between viewers we can rely on and those we can’t; in reality, it should be a tiered approach that informs media allocation – for example, segmenting impassioned versus casual versus one-time viewers. With those categories, we can then roughly estimate how many new viewers advertising needs to drive to reach the network’s total goal.

    It’s important to consider context before deciding to forgo or reduce advertising for any group of viewers. A season premiere, for example, may warrant marketing to even the most die-hard fans, as they’re not currently in the weekly habit of tuning in. Similarly, a show that’s moved time slots may need more of a boost than one that’s been on the same day, at the same time, for six seasons.
     
  2. Identify the subsegments within the target demographic. Once we identify roughly how many new viewers we need to capture through advertising, we can start to dig into the details of the audiences we need to pursue. The demographic brackets that networks work with are typically broad age ranges. For effective ad targeting, those need to be broken into subsegments. To understand who is most likely to gravitate toward a particular show, we can look at the characteristics of existing viewers that fall into the desired demographic. What other types of content do the most loyal viewers engage with? Is there a certain age group that shows greater interest? Once we establish these details, we can reach non-viewers with similar attributes to maximize the likelihood of ad spend converting to new viewers.

    Remember, who you exclude from audiences can be as important as who you include. In the case of linear TV, we don’t want to market to individuals that are known cord-cutters. Similarly, excluding users outside of the desired demographic is extremely important to minimize ad spend waste.
     
  3. Tailor the content to resonate with the individual. Having unique audiences is only valuable if you treat them differently. Casual viewers, for example, may warrant a lower frequency cap than viewers who have never tuned into the show. Additionally, different types of content will resonate with different types of viewers. Viewers that gravitate toward relationship-focused shows may appreciate imagery that shows two people interacting, while a viewer that prefers action-based content might prefer a battle scene. The more tailored content is to the user, the more likely it is to drive engagement.

Advanced TV creates more latitude, but comes with unique challenges

For advanced TV, networks don’t have to wrestle with the same challenges, since advertising in that space isn’t sold based on broad demographics. However, new challenges arise in the age of streaming. Viewers are becoming more network agnostic, showing greater loyalty to specific shows rather than channels. Additionally, the same content is commonly available through multiple streaming platforms, creating some friction. How does a network balance the desire to get more viewers for their content on third-party platforms with the need to increase their own app’s viewership? There’s no right answer, so it’s important to determine priorities on a network by network, platform by platform, or even series by series basis.

As television and entertainment continue to evolve, marketers will undoubtedly need to adjust to new data, audience nuances, and ways of working. However, whether it’s linear TV or advanced TV, the same core tenets hold true: the keys to success lie in understanding an individual’s proven viewing preferences, aligning with what the network wants to achieve, and deciding how best to engage – or not engage – with meaningful content based on that connection.

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