Big Data Has To Be TV’s Big Priority

Now that broadcasters are a couple of weeks into 2015, they can officially start looking forward to 2016 and the return of big-time political money.

And when that year gets here, I doubt they will be disappointed. It’s a presidential year, and it looks as if the Republican Party, at least, will have a long and lively fight for the presidential nomination before the real shooting begins in the general election.

Plus, the courts have opened wide the political fundraising spigots and the few reformers in Congress are at a loss to do anything about it. They certainly won’t do anything about it before Nov. 8, 2016.

The money will be so great that when the last political dollar is counted, they may find that they exceeded their take from 2012, the last presidential year.

But our story about Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial victory in Texas last November suggests that not all is well on the political front. With the help of Big Data analytics, the Abbott campaign spent less on TV than it had expected and steered 18% of its $30 million media budget into digital media.

Broadcasters have grudgingly accepted cable getting that kind of share, but not digital. It’s an unwelcomed third player. That the digital messages were mostly used to reinforce TV spots should offer little comfort.


According to the story, the Abbott campaign spent $1 million to winnow out from the 14 million registered voters in Texas the 2 million that it felt were the key to victory.

The campaign and its experts used more Big Data — including information from Rentrak — to determine which TV shows the 2 million were watching, and how to reach them on their desktops, smartphones and tablets.

Then, it was just a matter of placing the media money where the targeted voters were.

I’m not sure how widespread this kind of Big Data campaigning was in 2014, but I am sure it’s going to become more pervasive in 2016 and the years beyond.

After stories appeared about Obama’s pioneering Big Data campaigning in 2012, broadcasters with whom I spoke shrugged. Sure, it works, they said, but it’s expensive to identify the voters you want to reach and develop a media campaign to reach them. It’s beyond the reach of most state and local candidates.

Not necessarily. The cost of figuring out whom you want to reach and how to reach them is coming down fast. It was within the reach of the Abbott campaign in 2014, and will likely be within the reach of statewide candidates in smaller states in 2016.

“We’ve already begun to build out a new political suite of services,” says Chris Wilson, president, national television at Rentrak, one of the Big Data suppliers. “Our focus in the midterms was on races where there was a large amount of TV spending. [Now] one of our objectives is to provide information to all levels of races.”

What all this talk about Big Data means, is that candidates and their supporters will be buying smarter in 2016. They will go to broadcasters, asking how they can get to discreet groups of people. It might be folks they consider to be on the fence or like-minded individuals who simply need to be nudged to the polls.

Smart broadcasters will be ready with some answers. From surveying or other means, they need to know as much as they can about the audience on every show on their schedules. Just age and gender won’t cut it anymore.

The larger part of our front page is given to a story about how broadcasters are coming around to the idea of offering some form of programmatic, or automated, buying so they can remain attractive to all sorts of advertisers and their agencies.

But some believe broadcasters’ having a better handle of who’s watching is more important.

It “can’t be underestimated, says Kevin Gallagher, EVP, director of local markets at Starcom MediaVest Group. “I don’t think it’s the automation that continues to bring the dollars to spot TV. I think it’s being able to use data and do behavioral targeting like we do in other media.”

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or [email protected]. You can read earlier columns here.

This story originally appeared in TVNewsCheck’s Executive Outlook, a quarterly print publication devoted to the future of broadcasting. Subscribe here. Read the other stories in the Winter 2015 issue here.

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