Thanks to the new potential of digital audience data, television isn’t a dead marketing medium just yet.

That was the message Shaw Communications Inc. brought to its session at this week’s FFWD Advertising and Marketing conference in Toronto.

TV may seem like a tough sell to advertisers when more Canadians are cutting their cable and flocking to digital streaming services. Yet Shaw’s presentation touted set-top boxes (STBs) as a tool for TV broadcasters to win back advertisers.

Yes, STBs are used by streaming services like Netflix. But they’re also used by cable companies like Shaw to provide digital and on-demand services to their subscribers. Shaw believes traditional TV providers can tap into their own STBs as a valuable source of digital data so marketers can target their TV ads more effectively.

Viewer metrics

“It’s about taking the power of TV and the intelligence of data and bringing them together,” said Greg McLelland, senior vice-president of sales at Shaw Media.

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Shaw Media’s Greg McLelland onstage at FFWD in Toronto. (Photo: FFWD)

 He said Shaw’s new model gives Canadian marketers more timely and accurate TV audience data than the system they currently use to plan their TV ad purchases.

Under that current system, Canadian TV viewership data are based on surveys of just 4,530 households out of 15 million nationwide. Unlike those surveys, STBs provide more accurate digital data on the number of viewers rather than just a tiny sample.

As McLelland explained, Shaw launched a pilot project last year among 12,000 of its STB customers in the Vancouver area. (That has since been expanded to 190,000 households in Canada with Shaw aiming to include half a million homes eventually.)

First, Shaw tapped into those STBs to collect “billions of data points every month … at a second-by-second level” about which TV shows and commercials those viewers watched, when, and for how long, McLelland said. But although STBs track general ratings and patterns in a certain geographic area, they don’t track demographic figures like viewer income levels – the type of complementary data advertisers want most.

Deeper demographics

(As McLelland hastened to note, the name, address and other identifying details for each viewer in the pilot project remain anonymous so it is “fully privacy compliant.”)

To add that deeper demographic piece, Shaw teamed up with Environics Analytics. Environics used its existing database (including census figures, postal code demographics, and household income research) to develop profiles of residents in each specific region where Shaw tracked its STB data.

Meshing overall viewership numbers with demographic characteristics of a certain area of Canada doesn’t give marketers anything as specific as the exact age, gender, income or buying history of every TV viewer. But it does help them target their TV commercials to more probable and defined audience niches during specific TV shows, McLelland said.

Shop.ca buys in

Can it really provide more valuable insights to advertisers? Yes, according to Shop.ca. Its chief marketing officer Mark Daprato took the stage right after McLelland to describe how the ecommerce site used Shaw’s new TV ad placement model during the pilot project.

Shop.ca wanted to aim its 30-second TV commercials at four different types of consumers it described as fledgling families, young metro diversity, prosperous parents, and middle-aged achievers. It started by determining, from its own data, what Shop.ca customers were buying and where they lived in Canada.

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Screen grab of a Shop.ca TV commercial featuring ET Canada host Rick Campanelli. It was targeted to niche TV audiences using Shaw STB data.

Then it looked at where those four types of consumers live in Canada based on Environics demographic research data. Finally, Shop.ca used Shaw’s STB data to determine which TV shows have the highest viewership in those particular regions of Canada most likely to be populated by its four consumer target groups. Using all of that integrated data, Shop.ca bought its TV ad time accordingly.

“Shaw was able to pre-plan for us what were the four (consumer) segments we wanted to get at (via) the TV programs we really wanted to get at,” Daprato said.

Shaw’s model correlated with improvements in Shop.ca’s SEO results, website traffic and online purchases within the targeted postal codes, Daprato said.

Gauging ROI

Shop.ca gauged that ROI by “actually looking … at transaction moments in time” on its website and “lining those up against the viewing data” from Shaw’s STBs, he said.

In addition, Shop.ca was able to adjust the targeting and timing of its TV spots every two weeks based on the STB data it received during the pilot project. The new Shaw model generates STB data weekly, but “our goal is to move that to daily,” McLelland said.

It’s a brand new chapter in TV advertising that’s still being written. In 2014, NBC Universal started offering advertisers on its U.S. TV channels STB audience data collected by its parent company, cable provider Comcast Corp. Late last year Comcast was in talks to license its STB viewership data to outside networks like ESPN and Discovery so they can use it to woo advertisers to their own TV channels.

Here in Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has asked a working group of 14 major stakeholders such as Shaw, Rogers and CBC) to develop a set of technical standards and privacy guidelines for collecting and sharing STB audience data across the TV industry.

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