The role of local TV is evolving quickly from a strategic perspective. It is becoming particularly efficient for local advertisers and an increasingly essential part of national media buys. This trend is being powered by shifts in media consumption, increasing viewership, the use of data for audience targeting, enhanced addressability on all platforms, and new attribution tools that prove market-specific targeting delivers results.
This trend emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic when advertisers were forced to adapt — and they shifted budgets as performance became paramount. Within the New York market — very much the hub of national media — the strategic balance of national and regional considerations to achieve efficient reach is at the heart of our conversations. These topics will be explored in a series of video interviews with industry leaders who navigate these considerations of balance, efficiency and targeting in different ways, quarter after quarter.
Local news programming this year has seen strong viewership growth as audiences seek the latest information about the pandemic. For advertisers seeking to convert viewers into new customers — especially as their buying habits change dramatically — local news also provides more concise targeting for both regional and national brands.
“We found that a lot of the marketers took advantage of local news coverage, and especially the credibility that came with this,” said Charlie Holmes, senior vice president of sales at NY Interconnect, a sales consortium co-owned by Charter, Altice and Comcast, in this interview with Beet.TV. “
Local news has become especially critical for consumers to stay current when things are changing daily, and sometimes even hourly.” Local news experienced a 265% jump in viewership in some dayparts, according to data compiled by VAB, with 80% of consumers said local TV news was the most reliable source of information about the pandemic.
The need for local news has been especially acute in the region surrounding New York City, where New Jersey, Connecticut and New York State have different, often conflicting policies on business lockdowns, travel restrictions, coronavirus testing and quarantining.
To respond to that hunger for local news, NY1 and sister network News12 on nearby Long Island, developed specialized programming to help viewers understand nearby happenings, Holmes said. Among the shows were “One New York” on NY1 and “The New Normal” that gave viewers a chance to call in an speak to health experts and newsmakers.
“The news channels really shifted their focus to the consumer and gave us an opportunity for advertisers to sponsor these shows and really be a part of the information that consumers were craving,” Holmes said.
Power of ‘Conquesting’
The pandemic has disrupted the supply chains for a variety of products, leading to temporary shortages in everything from toilet paper to cleaning supplies to fresh food. With many consumers finding grocery shelves emptied of their favorite brands, they are more willing to experiment with new products and services than ever before.
“We’re at an infection point when this forced disruption has broken down brand loyalty,” Holmes said. “By choice or circumstance, consumers are trying different brands and services. This is a terrific opportunity for marketers to ‘conquest’ more established brands.”
While people are concerned about personal safety, they are still spending money on consumer goods and services. Total retail and food services sales have returned to their pre-pandemic trends, even as consumers cope with disruptions.
“We’ve become a ‘homebody’ economy. People may go out for groceries. They may entertain friends in the backyard, but they’re still reluctant to travel or go into crowded spaces,” Holmes said. “Brands who recognize these shifts in consumer behaviors will be the ones who survive and thrive, and clearly, television is a big part of how they message that out to the consumer.”
NY Interconnect saw national brands such as Bumblebee, Seamless, Boomer Naturals, Amgen, Goya, Salesforce, Hood, Novartis advertise in the New York region. Media brands like Netflix, Amazon Prime and cable networks also advertised more heavily to reach homebound consumers, Holmes said.
The return of sports programming also helped to drive viewership, he said. The airing of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary about NBA legend Michael Jordan and his final championship season with the Chicago Bulls, saw a huge a jump in ratings and indicated the hunger for sports-programming. As professional sports returned, viewers also turned into news about their favorite teams.
Looking ahead to 2021, Holmes said marketers are likely to take a holistic approach to their media buying, seeking placements on linear TV, over-the-top platforms and video on demand services.
“A holistic approach is important going into this next year,” he said. “We gained a lot of learnings from the roller coaster that was 2020. Whether the market is up or down, it’s important for brands to advertise. Brand that continue to advertise have a real advantage now that things are picking up.”
Despite years of focus on national media buys, there is a renewed marketer emphasis on local TV.
That is partly because of a new recognition that different media markets have different qualities and consumers, and partly because people are realizing over-the-top TV (OTT) services have the ability to target at local level – like cable before them, perhaps even better.
In this video interview with Beet.TV, Kristin Wnuk, head of local and director of sales at Roku, explains what is going on.
“The pandemic put a spotlight on how important local media is out in the marketplace,” she says.
Wnuk says this year has revealed how different parts of the US are moving differently in the evolution of OTT and connected TV.
“Not all states were having the same streaming habits when they went into lockdown,” she says.
For example, Tennessee and Kentucky adopted streaming ad different rates, whilst urban markets outpaced rural ones in terms of streaming growth. For example, New York saw a threefold volume of streaming growth versus Watford, North Dakota, Wnuk says.
Agility amid chaos
“Advertisers needed flexibility in their media plans,” she says. “So we did offer that as part of our upfront and allowed advertisers to actually turn media on within a 24-hour period from a zip code to zip code perspective.”
Wnuk is describing the many advertisers which pivoted their creative early in the pandemic, to downplay scenes like touching or large gatherings.
In many cases, it was the agility of OTT platforms that allowed them to make speedy changes, versus traditional television.
Streaming services accounted for 25% of all US TV-viewing minutes during Q2 2020, according to Nielsen’s Streaming Meter.
The move to IP-based TV creates an opportunity to measure, track and target individual viewers or households, as well as their location.
That also creates an opportunity to go beyond broad DMAs (designated media areas).
“Tn the New York DMA, there’s over seven and a half million TV households and it can be challenging to really reach that true target and really get granular there in your targeting,” Roku’s Wnuk says.
“Roku creates a relationship with all of their users when they sign up. We’re building up sort of a dataset on each one of our users.
“We understand what our users are watching, what they’re searching for, and that really can help affect a marketer’s decisions. You can leverage Roku’s proprietary data when you’re targeting those audiences.”
In Q3, Roku reported a 43% year-on-year jump in active viewer accounts and doubled the account reach of its Roku Channel, one of its content offerings through against which it places ads. It reported a total 46 million active accounts.
More than that, Roku boasted a 90% year-on-year growth in monetized video ad impressions – up from the 50% annual growth it reported in Q2.
Basically, Roku is growing fast, and the pandemic has made it grow faster.
In May, the company unveiled OneView, its own demand-side platform (DSP), making available its ad inventory directly to buyers.
In an era of on-demand consumption, many amateur soothsayers would have you believe that “live TV is dead”.
Try telling that to the millions who tune in to live televised sport every week.
Live linear still commands and audience and, so, broadcasters still think they can command advertisers.
In this video interview with Beet.TV, Dan Donnelly, SVP, Ad Sales Strategy & Sports Brand Partnerships at FOX Sports, talks about what he is offering brands in the new age.
“People are coming for the sports content,” Donnelly says. “Now, if you interrupt their experience with something that’s not relevant, it’s not going to resonate as well as if you bring something that is authentic and relevant.
“All of these spaces are basically areas where commercial avoidance has become that consumer behavior.
“And so we’re doing a lot of solution providing to brands across the board.”
Donnelly cites three examples of such campaigns:
A GMC activation during NFL’s Thursday Night Football in which ex-players drive GMC vehicles around the cities in which they once played. The recent launch of the Hummer EV vehicle by an introduction from sportscaster Joe Buck during game one of the World Series. Promoting an enhancement to the viewing experience in Fox Sports’ app for a Samsung 5G campaign
Donnelly says the Hummer campaign moved the needle. “What we saw on the Google Analytics, literally within seconds, the search term and it just went through roof,” he says.
“Some people may have been searching for more information maybe in a pre-order, which is what GMC was hoping would happen, or maybe just what was the music in that, who was the opening narrative, the voiceover in that spot and that again is the great opportunity with linear television.”
The COVID-19 pandemic starved viewers of live TV sports, but their return heralds a re-evaluation of their value to brands and viewers alike.
That’s not a forgone conclusion, of course. Before the pandemic, some sports were seeing ratings decline, in what is a content-abundant consumer environment.
Donnelly is aware of a balancing act. ‘Now the challenge is, ‘How do you put your messaging within those spaces that are not commercial avoidance opportunities?’,” he says.
“Within sports right now is your brand needs to be authentic and relevant within that space.”
Still got it
Ultimately, he believes TV still has what it takes.
“There’s still such a huge opportunity within the linear television space and networks, the sight, sound and motion that connectivity that people have with that best screen that’s in the room,” Donnelly adds.
There are also multi devices and you can have multi-screen or multi task at the same time. But, when you’re providing that content on that big screen and really generating the emotional connection, that is something that is driving the research and the results continue to show that it’s working.
“When television is turned on, as well as even the digital extensions, when it’s turned on, you can see immediate transactions. It is, in fact, working.”
The growing number of video channels is challenging advertisers to develop strategies to reach unduplicated audiences both at the national and local level. To stand out amid the clutter, those marketers also want a way to integrate their messaging with content that keeps viewers engaged.
Advertisers “want a package that includes branded content, content creation and sponsorship integration,” Jon Steinberg, president of Altice News and Advertising at Altice USA, said in this interview with Beet.TV. Altice’s media brands include Cheddar, regional news network News12 and i24 for international news.
Advertisers “want standard 15- and 30-second ads running on traditional linear television, and they want OTT,” Steinberg said, referring to over-the-top services that have become more popular in the past few years. “If they can run that against content that is thematically what they’re interested in and an audience that they’re interested in, it’s all the more exciting.”
Steinberg joined Altice last year when the company acquired Cheddar, a financial news network he co-founded to reach millennials who were connecting their TVs directly to the internet instead of subscribing to a cable or satellite TV service. The cord-cutting trend fueled a demand for OTT platforms that carried channels like Cheddar.
Surge in News Viewership
With many people stuck at home during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Altice saw a surge in viewership as consumers sought the latest news about the health crisis. Unfortunately, the pandemic led advertisers to delay campaigns or cancel ones that were out of step with the public mood, dampening media spending during the second quarter. Altice experienced an almost 16% decline in ad sales during the period.
“That was relatively a victory if you look at a lot of our peers who were down 30% to 40%,” Steinberg said. “Just because we had spikes in viewership doesn’t necessarily mean we had spikes in advertising.”
Altice’s monetization strategy includes selling traditional 15- and 30-second spots, working with New York Interconnect to sell inventory in the New York DMA, and branded integrations with marketers like Dunkin’, Chase and Allied Bank.
“News12 is one of the best-performing networks in the New York DMA,” Steinberg said. “That’s a powerful place for people to do local advertising.”
He said that advertisers have become more comfortable in placing ads amid news stories that are worrisome to viewers, such as updates on the pandemic. However, interest in COVID-19 has waned as people adjust to the new normal.
“COVID fatigue is a real thing. We definitely saw a fall-off in the amount of COVID coverage people wanted,” Steinberg said. “Advertisers by and large are comfortable with it. An informed public is what we’re all striving for.”
Politically Neutral News
While this year’s election season drew attention to the ideological differences among news outlets, Cheddar has remained neutral on those issues with its focus on what matters to businesspeople and investors.
Cheddar is “a business network focused on technology, media, innovation and entrepreneurship. It is most certainly non-partisan,” Steinberg said. “The only leaning you could say is that it’s probably pro-capitalism because we root for the entrepreneur. We root for the startup.”
Of course, Steinberg has an entrepreneurial background as a co-founder of Cheddar and his prior experience at digital publishing startup BuzzFeed. That experience informs his outlook for innovation in the media industry.
“The entrepreneur in the media space should build something of scale that does something unique in terms of content and advertising and a subscription product, and then ultimately needs to link up with a larger partner or larger parent to really take it to the next level,” he said. “If you try to do everything on your own, and reinvent the wheel for every single piece of your business, it leads to an operating cost structure that’s not sustainable for a startup.”
Live sports are ready to make a comeback after the pandemic led to the biggest interruption in fan attendance since World War II. As vaccine researchers report surprisingly good results from recent tests, many people next year are more likely to seek things they had shunned, including sporting events, concerts, theaters, airlines, restaurants and stores.
Next year will bring the return of sporting events that were canceled, including the Summer Olympics and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament that typically generate significant media spending. Marybeth Strobel, senior vice president at Turner Sports, is cautiously optimistic about what next year will bring.
“I hope in 2021 we’ll see sports come back in an even bigger way,” she said in this interview with Beet.TV. “Fans are excited to get back, and next year will bring us the NCAA tournament which we lost for a year.”
The tournament, known as “March Madness,” in 2019 was the third-biggest generator of advertising revenue after the Super Bowl and the NBA playoffs, according to market researcher Kantar. Since 2011, Turner Sports has carried the tournament in a collaboration with CBS Sports. Turner shows games on TBS, TNT and TruTV.
Reaching Fans on Multiple Screens
With sports fans watching games, highlight clips and news coverage on multiple devices, Turner Sports has adapted to reach audiences in a more fragmented media environment.
“Sports has always attracted marketers who want huge exposure — real high impact — particularly and historically on television, but fans are now consuming content on multiple screens,” Strobel said. “It’s something that we need to be fully aware of in the way that we work with our partners.”
Turner Sports not only works to provide valuable content, but also aims to provide audience reach to consumers at different stages of the “sales funnel,” which generally starts with broad awareness and narrows down to a final sale. Along the way, audience data from telecommunications giant AT&T, the parent company of WarnerMedia and Turner Sports, help to inform media buyers.
“That’s the beauty of data,” Strobel said, adding that “when we talk about data, we also need to be very careful in the sports space. A lot of times if you delve into data, you’re constantly being pushed toward the bottom of the funnel without feeding the top. That top is so important when it comes to that element of discovery.”
From there, metrics help to determine the efficacy of marketing messages in guiding the consumer toward the bottom of the sales funnel.
“We just need to be very careful and aware of measurement,” Strobel said. “We need to make sure that we’re working together as an industry toward that holistic, cross-platform measurement capability.”
This year’s elections brought record levels of spending on campaigns, with the Center for Responsive Politics raising its estimates of a final tally to more than $14 billion from $11 billion only a few weeks before. It’s still too early to tell how much of that amount went into television ads, but there’s little doubt that spending hit records.
Like many parts of the U.S., New York City and the surrounding region had their share of hotly contested races as several incumbents retired and political parties worked to flip vulnerable seats. Those twin dynamics set off a scramble to spend heavily in the designated market area (DMA) for television.
“In the New York DMA, we saw some very competitive races,” Randi Langford, vice president of programming and political ad sales at New York Interconnect (NYI), a joint venture among Charter, Altice and Comcast, in this interview with Beet.TV.
With Rep. Pete King, R-New York, retiring from New York’s 2nd district, and Max Rose, D-New York, facing a challenge from Republican Nicole Malliatakis in the 11th district, voters in the region were inundated with campaign advertising.
Shifting Viewing Habits
To reach those voters, political campaigns spent more heavily on over-the-top (OTT) and digital channels as the pandemic spurred a significant shift in viewing habits. With people spending more time at home consuming electronic media and manty candidates pulling back from rallies and other live events, streaming channels become more prominent.
“If we look back on 2018, OTT and digital did not play nearly as strong a role as they did in 2020,” Langford said. “People are home a lot more now, and 24/7 is primetime. In order to get every viewer, your schedules have to be so much broader, so much deeper.”
The pandemic not only affected those habits, but it also may have led campaigns to change the tone of their advertising as consumers worried about the health crisis and its effect on the economy.
“Perhaps the pandemic slowed down some of the fundraising ads when the pandemic first started,” Langford said. “That being said, most of the advertising was traditionally what you expect to see.”
As campaigns entered their final weeks, political ads tended to first focus on introducing voters to candidates, followed by a period of listing their accomplishments and what they hoped to achieve in office. Mudslinging tended to be less common among these campaigns, while issue ads from political action committees (PACs) tended to be darker in tone.
Elections have distinct cycles as they move from primaries within political parties to the general election, when audience data become more crucial. NYI has Census-level set-top data to help target people of different political persuasions down to the level of congressional districts. Because each district has its own demographic qualities, no campaign is alike.
“As we get into the general election, it’s so much more important that we reach more than the party we’re identifying with,” she said. “There’s no cookie-cutting. That doesn’t work in this genre.”
2020 was a year that broke many companies. But it may also end up being a year when those that were able to invest in marketing created a new foothold that catapulted them toward growth.
VAB, an insights-driven organization dedicated to answering marketers’ toughest questions, says it pulled a century of economic data and found one key finding - investment in brand-building pays off.
In this video interview with Beet.TV, Sean Cunningham, VAB President & CEO, reflects on a year that, for some, may have been as much "make" as it was "break".
Spending through turmoil
Cunningham says many brands did, indeed, double down this year. Brands like Hotels.com, for example, returned to TV advertising in June.
"We tracked nationally that we've seen $460 million worth of new advertising come into the national platform - 110 new brands in 59 categories," Cunningham says.
"Their heaviest spending period was in the toughest part of the pandemic.
"(In) the three months in the beginning of the economic downturn, we saw a great number of advertisers with very sophisticated data analytics decide to launch on TV in that environment and to great effect."
Victors amid chaos
VAB's research shows brands like Amazon, Walmart, T-Mobile, General Mills and Hershey used the ’08 recession to catapult their growth.
Amazon, for instance, launched its first TV campaign in the middle of the recession in 2008 and saw a compound annual growth rate of 34% between 2008-2012.
VAB's analysis across 400 brands showed that those who increased spend saw a nearly 70% increase in ROI versus brands that decreased their spend.
Meanwhile, in a study during the 2008 recession, brands that kept their share of voice flat relative to their competitors did not experience any profit growth, whereas 38% of brands who planned increases to their share of voice experienced very large profit growth, VAB's analysis shows.
Time is now
"For a sophisticated marketer, now is not the time to cut, now is not the time to play it safe," Cunningham says. "Now is the opportunity to share efficiently in a downmarket."
"When there is a downturn in certain categories in the amount that people are advertising, now is absolutely the time to invest in the simple principles like making sure that your share of voice eclipses your share of market.
"The return on that in terms of big results is super clear. One of the things that we've seen is that there's a lot of smart savvy advertisers that are data- and analytically-driven who actually saw 2020 as launch time."
Cunningham suggests the advertiser opportunity is evident in terms of audience availability. During the pandemic, TV viewing has swelled:
"67% of people that we polled said that the television set became the centre of their house."
"50% said they had a dedicated TV set to a news channel pretty much 24/7."
"over a third of that population that we pulled went and got another subscription service and went and got another AVOD service."
"2020 is a year that I think some of us want to forget, but there are changes that we'll always remember," Cunningham adds. "The acceleration that we saw ... really put us probably a couple of years forward in our evolution. That it's a good thing for marketers, particularly data-driven marketers."
At times over the last 15 years, it is has felt like local media were diminishing in popularity with audiences and magnetism for ad buyers.
COVID-19, however, is challenging that notion.
In this video interview with Beet.TV, Angela Steele, Carat USA CEO, says the pandemic has driven up local media consumption and, with it, advertiser appeal.
Look to local
"We've seen through COVID, there's a shift from live sports to things like live news," Steele says. "And that's where those local platforms are really important as people are tuning into wanting to know what's happening locally.
"So local strategies are continuing to play an important role, but in a different way, because of the way people are shifting their viewing habits and the types of content that people are now watching that may have more of a local angle than it did in the past."
That sentiment echoes recent Nielsen research which showed local news was the most popular news consumed while working from home earlier this year.
Audiences are in the data
In a sense, though, finding those local-content audiences is becoming just another pathway followed in the modern, audience-based ad targeting paradigm.
Steele's Carat uses a dataset from M1, the people-based advertising product at Merkle, owned by shared parent Dentsu-Aegis Network.
"We are able to identify individuals at the unique ID level," Steele says. "So we know who we are engaging with as individuals, not as proxies, not as cookies ... That applies also for local.
"That's the dataset that we use for everything, from planning to activation and measurement. It's a very broad data set."
But audience datasets don't necessarily tell you everything about how to recalibrate ad creative during an existential global health crisis.
Steele says Carat uses Dentsu-Aegis' COVID Crisis Navigator, a routine survey into consumer attitudes, to understand how brands should act.
After "13 waves" of survey, Steele identifies two main pandemic phases for brands:
The beginning: Basic needs amid shock, like home delivery and available supply.
The new normal: An evolved moment, with brand purpose and empathy high on the agenda.
During the beginning, Steele says Carat's client P&G needed to communicate to consumers how it understood the importance of toilet roll availability. Its messaging combined both supply reassurances and concern for wellbeing.
A few of the speakers in our series include:
Topics to be discussed:
What are the opportunities for national advertisers on local cable systems and on local TV stations: how are they following, finding and planning for the right audiences?
Live Sports are back – what does this mean for regional sports as they return? How has the future of eSports changed in recent months, from what you might have anticipated prior to March?
How has the massive consumer adoption of OTT changed the media mix on a local level? What are the viewer trends?
How is advertisers’ more proactive, exploratory use of data transforming the planning, buying and understanding the performance of local media?
What are the demands and expectations of local advertisers, particularly during the COVID period?