This Season’s Hot New TV Show: The Data Game

The annual TV upfronts presentations are traditionally the forum where broadcasters and cable networks roll out their new and returning series and bring out their on-air stars to schmooze with advertisers. At this year’s upfronts, which kicked off Monday, the biggest announcements were about algorithms, not A-listers.

Anxious to hold onto advertising dollars in the face of growing competition from digital platforms, several networks used their presentations to showcase ambitious new data initiatives meant to offer advertisers the same sort of precision targeting of their audience that digital platforms provide but with the reach and reliability of network television.

On Wednesday, for instance, Turner Networks unveiled the Turner Data Cloud, a new platform that allows marketers to shop for data across all Turner networks and then integrate that information with the marketer’s own data or data from other third-party sources using common Big Data tools to develop precise targeting segments.

One Tuesday, ESPN announced a new data integration program with Cablevision to combine the cable operator’s set-top box data with data from ESPN’s extensive digital operations to provide advertisers with comprehensive, cross-screen visibility into how, when and where viewers are engaging with ESPN’s programming.

“We have seen the impact of census-level audience data on advertising measurement and effectiveness first hand – it is truly transformative,” Cablevision media sales president Ben Tatta said in announcing the deal. “Bringing together two leading first-party data sets provides advertisers unprecedented granularity and robust intelligence about the unique value of the ESPN impression.”

While the Cablevision deal is limited to the operator’s New York City-area footprint, ESPN executives said they expect to make similar deals with other distributors in coming months.

“The comprehensive consumer insight from this collaboration will enable us to develop a multiplatform model that works on a national scale and ushers in a new chapter in the data and effectiveness story for our advertisers,” ESPN president, of Global Customer Marketing and Sales Ed Erhardt said in a statement.

Last week, NBC Universal unveiled its Audience Targeting Platform, which combines data from NBC-U networks and multiple third-party source to enable marketers to identify and locate more precisely defined audience segments.

The urgency the networks feel about marketing dollars fleeing traditional platforms was evident from the pointed comments some executives made during their presentations about their digital competitors.

“What we are saying is ESPN’s digital properties are clean and well-lit places that have great content,” Erhardt told the Wall Street Journal. “That message is resonating right now because there clearly is some re-evaluating going on by advertisers and buyers because of what is going on in some parts of the digital ecosystem.”

Turner Advertising Sales president Donna Speciale took a shot at the online competition from the stage on Wednesday, for what she called their “bot traffic, viewability issues, and Wild West metrics.”

At Turner, she said, “data and content are officially hitched,” adding, “We have what it takes to make big things happen for you and your brands.”