TV Networks Watch You Back With The Help Of Big Data

Image courtesy of Phillip Pessar

Adults between ages 18 and 49 are advertisers’ favorite demographic, but television networks have a huge problem. Every year, those adults watch less and less prime-time TV, and when they do it’s often on a DVR that lets them zip through the commercials or months later on an ad-free streaming service like Netflix. So without all those eyeballs to advertise to, how are TV networks able to stay on air?

It’s currently “upfront season” in TV land, that magical time of year when networks show off all the shiny new shows (that will probably be canceled within a year) to advertisers in the hope that they will buy oodles of commercials.

And according to the L.A. Times, networks are trying to reassure advertisers of two things: They know a lot about their viewers and they know how to reach those viewers who fast-forward through commercials.

One of the criteria that networks have used in choosing their programming for the 2017-2018 TV year is whether a show lends itself to product placement. If you watched American Idol in its original incarnation on Fox, Coca-Cola and Ford are probably burned onto your brain, and that’s one of the reasons why ABC decided to revive the singing contest. After all, you can’t avoid a beverage product placement when an Idol judge is sipping that very beverage from a branded cup in the middle of their critique.

Networks also want to harness Big Data to find the right people to advertise to. This is a specialty of NBC Universal, which is of course owned by cable giant Comcast. Quietly gathering viewing data about its customers from their DVRs and cable boxes and matching it up with information from the U.S. Census and consumer databases, TV networks will be able to tell advertisers a lot about you.

NBC is able to use the data it has to sell ads it may not otherwise have sold. For instance, the network’s This Is Us may target a predominantly female audience, but NBC was able to demonstrate that men are indeed watching, even if it’s at the behest of a wife or girlfriend. This allowed the network to sell male-targeted ads against the show.