Skip to main content

User Data Is Key to Digital Delivery Success

(Editor's note: A paragraph referring to a Neustar white paper regarding Starz has been deleted at the request of Starz, which said the source material was not verified.)
MULTIPLE CITIES—To stay competitive in today’s video distribution landscape, media content providers need to embrace the seismic shift of TV Everywhere by leveraging user data captured from smartphones, tablets, laptops and game consoles.

Today’s 3.0 digital consumer is far more engaged with video content than the couch potato of yesteryear. Keeping them engaged is the secret to business success. Recent studies have shown that so-called “digital carnivores”—those who possess a laptop, tablet and a smartphone—watch their favorite primetime shows on their 52-inch flat screens while simultaneously using their phone or tablet to tweet commentary about what’s unfolding on the TV. According to research firm Deloitte, an estimated 37 percent of U.S. consumers are digital carnivores, representing an increase of 42 percent over 2012.

Reality and sports are two genres that are especially friendly to social media and viewer engagement, but online chatter theoretically can occur with any program with a hashtag.

Old-school broadcasters and cable companies now realize they have no choice but embrace data-mining. “If you asked the question two years ago, most media outlets would be reluctant at best to say they understood and embraced it,” saie Simon Jones, director of product marketing for Ooyala, which is working with a number of TV companies on digital data strategies. “But at this point they’re doing probably some of the most innovative work in the space.”

A good example is Comcast, which was supposed to be losing customers at an alarming rate due to “cord cutters” canceling their subscriptions. It instead reported a net increase in subscriptions toward the end of last year, soon after it started delivering its Xfinity OTT service to its subscribers, Jones said of Comcast, which is not one of his clients.

“Using user data allowed Comcast to get a better understanding of its subscriber base,” he said. “People who want to watch television don’t just want to sit on the couch and watch on the big square box in the corner of the room anymore. So the goal is to deliver that entertainment to the devices in the places where subscribers want to be.”

Jones said Ooyala helps its clients by automatically transcoding video content “in lots of different versions so it looks splendid on every possible device,” and then delivers it across all desired platforms via a cloud-based platform. “We track everything that’s happening and then provide the insights that tell our clients the things they need to know—things that are frankly very different today than they were a year and a half ago.”

Initially most media distributors wanted to know how many people were watching a particular show. That evolved to “What’s my impression rate?” and other metrics that delve a lot deeper. Jones said clients now want to know what types of shows are being watched, what devices viewers are consuming media on, what times of day shows are being watched, and which shows can be supported with targeted ads.

“They have to make interesting decisions that they weren’t previously thinking about,” he said. “There’s a lot more depth to the revenue opportunities now, and more creative marketing that goes well beyond ‘Can I get people to watch?’”

Jones cites Ooyala client Univision, which recently made a series of strategic decisions about the best way to monetize their content. The Spanish-language broadcaster has moved all of its long-form programming behind a TV Everywhere authenticated streaming wall, requiring consumers to log in with their cable or satellite provider before they can view it. The authentication process provides a virtual focus group that can be leveraged in many ways.

Today, there’s no shortage of software solutions that help broadcasters and corporate video users glean viewer tastes and get a better understanding of their behavior. This provides substantial marketing opportunities for advertisers, including targeting specific potential buyers of their products or services.

A marketing technology firm called Dstillery is helping TV clients such as Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, NBC and Charter stay one step ahead of customers or potential customers by building custom marketing programs based on Web-browsing histories, according to Brian d’Alessandro, Dstillery vice president of data science. Using predictive analysis of what websites consumers are visiting, tracked by cookies and other analytics, Dstillery is able to establish “the propensity of specific users to be converted or interested in one of our brands,” d’Alessandro saids. Those interested users are then targeted extensively.

A recent Dstillery program for DirecTV, for example, successfully targeted sports enthusiasts, people who had recently moved, and high-tech households. Creative pitches were tailored for these particular audiences. “We know that people who are moving, for example, are shopping around for an ISP. That’s very helpful to our clients’ go-to-market strategies.”

Dstillery’s work for Time Warner Cable tracked the extent to which people take a desired action (e.g., buy a product) after seeing ads on different digital devices. The research found that prospects are twice as likely to convert after seeing an ad on a tablet (40 percent) than on a mobile phone (20 percent). Analysis suggests that “behavioral pinpointing” is a worthwhile endeavor. Preselected subjects are five times more likely to respond favorably than those randomly chosen to receive a message.

On the broadcast spectrum, Fox’s data mining activities have reinforced its use of the Web as a market research tool. Recent research shows that 76 percent of television viewers who recall seeing tweets related to a specific program have searched for that show online; 78 percent have taken action on Twitter, such as clicking on the show’s hashtag; and 77 percent actually watched TV show content. That’s the type of viewer engagement Fox is hoping for.

Similarly, the Center for Research Excellence quotes Nielsen 360 research that suggests that 90 percent of viewers of a TV-related tweet took immediate action based on it, and that one out of six viewers of primetime shows (about 17 percent) are simultaneously interacting with social media.

Last November, NBC Universal and Comcast partnered with Twitter on the social media company’s See It technology, which gives Comcast Xfinity customers the ability to change the channel, set the DVR and play a show on demand directly from a tweet. It’s been used for NBC’s “The Voice,” whose #thevoice generates 350 million tweets in a typical week.

“My biggest interest is in using the data to make informed marketing decisions on customers’ propensities to buy different things,” said David McNaughton, senior vice president of marketing for Mediacom, a cable operator that serves more than 1,500 communities in 22 states.

“I can look at all the data from customers and see which customers are going to leave me, and then do proactive things to reach out to those customers before they call to disconnect,” McNaughton said. “It makes me smarter with respect to how I treat the customer; whether I make a phone call or send a flyer that says, ‘We’ve noticed you’re having service issues. Please call so we can help.’”

Mediacom also uses data analysis for its own online digital advertising, optimizing cost per click, cost per close and sales.

“What we know about customers in the digital space and their behaviors is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “With user data, we can learn a lot of unique things about customers. Is someone searching for a Ford car? Well, Chevy might want to put out an offer before they buy the Ford. There’s a lot of data out there that can be useful.”

However, with all the attention on issues of digital privacy in this post-Snowden/NSA world, the television industry might be a bit skittish to delve that deeply for fear of offending subscribers. Still, targeted marketing isn’t quite phone hacking and multinational espionage.

“It’s awfully interesting what can be done once we get past the regulatory and privacy concerns,” McNaughto saidn. “It’s in the customers’ best interest, and it helps us give them the best products individually.”

From a multichannel video operator perspective, the shrinking pay TV subscription market, coupled with consumers’ preference for immediately accessible content via a variety of devices, means providers need to create a strong Internet experience, McNaughton said. Mining user data is a big step in that direction. With the Internet’s inherent ability to track every click, there’s a growing recognition across the media landscape that user data is key to being creative and, in some cases, reinventing your business model.