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ABC’s Behavior Ratings Push

Nov 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

ABC, the network that pioneered the use of demographic ratings and transformed the way television is bought and sold, appears to be at it again. But instead of age-/sex-based demographics, the network is planning to leverage a new form of television ratings based on consumer attitudes, lifestyles and behaviors.
The network initially will begin using the new data to fine-tune the way it schedules shows and develops programming for its viewers. But over time it is expected to develop advertising sales strategies and maybe even advertising packages based on the so-called “behavior graphic” ratings.
“We’re going to be using it for a number of areas, but one of the things we’ll be looking at first is how the attitudes and lifestyles of our current audience segments impact viewing, as well as where we want to go in the future,” explained Rachel Mueller-Lust, VP of sales research at ABC.
The new research, which Simmons Market Research Bureau developed in cooperation with Nielsen Media Research, creates a direct link between the TV viewing data provided by Nielsen’s respondents and a wide range of consumer behavior data generated by Simmons’ National Consumer Study, an exhaustive twice-yearly study that surveys more than 37,000 people about nearly 8,000 consumer brands.
It also asks people to provide information about other so-called psychographic data, including attitudes and lifestyles that might be relevant to marketers. By combining those two sets of data into a linked database called BehaviorGraphics, marketers, agencies and the media can now look at the behavioral characteristics of specific TV shows or channels.
In other words, instead of simply describing the TV audience by the limited age, sex, income or geographic composition of a show, the BehaviorGraphics data can determine the audience skew of a show based on 21 lifestyle segments, ranging from “Must-Buy Shoppers” to “Gadget Gurus.”
Ms. Mueller-Lust said the network has only just begun to play with the data, but thinks there already are some obvious areas for the network to drill into. “`Home and Family Focused’ is an obvious break for us, but we might also look at `Infoseekers’ to help understand viewers for ABC News,” she said.
Naturally, she was reluctant to go in to too many details, as ABC considers the use of such research a proprietary advantage over the other networks. To date, only a few cable networks, including lifestyle-oriented MTV Networks and Discovery Networks, have signed up for the data. But particularly significant is its adoption by ABC-a network that turned the world of ratings-based advertising sales upside down in the late 1960s and early 1970s by developing a demographic-based sales pitch.
At the time, ABC had a serious household ratings disadvantage to CBS’s and NBC’s huge “boxcar” numbers, but its research and sales team realized that the network tended to index much higher among younger and more urban households, the kinds some marketers might consider especially valuable.
The rest is history, of course, but to some who think demographics are no longer the best means of targeting consumers, it has become ancient history. The reality is that advertisers and agencies have begun to use far more sophisticated data to define their advertising targets, only to see much of that refinement get lost in the translation of demographic-based audience ratings.
It has become more of a sore point as marketers have come by data such as Simmons’ that enables them to link TV viewing directly to consumer behavior. A recently analysis by the highly respected ad industry consultant Erwin Ephron, for example, found that conventional demographic ratings can deviate as much as 25 percent from a brand’s actual consumer targets.
The industry has known this for a while and has made attempts in the past to fix it, including Arbitron’s ill-fated and expensive attempt to build a single-source ratings system that would measure both TV viewing and product usage of a single panel of consumers. That system, ScanAmerica, which developed a concept known as “buyergraphics,” ultimately failed when only CBS and a handful of ad agencies supported it, but the industry has been searching for a successor ever since.
“The principle behind BehaviorGraphics is very sound,” said Tony Jarvis, senior VP and director of consumer insights at MediaCom Worldwide. While Mr. Jarvis’ agency does not subscribe to that data, he said he has recently grown very impressed by it, especially following a presentation made last week to a high-level committee at the Advertising Research Foundation.
Noting that there are limitations to what can be done with the data, Mr. Jarvis said it nonetheless could be a valuable media-planning tool. While he said it is unlikely agencies will use it as the basis of negotiations with networks, he said they might use it to better allocate shows based on the specific targets of brands after their buying groups negotiate buys based on conventional demographic ratings.
And while it is premature to get into how ABC might actually use the data to pitch Madison Avenue, Ms. Mueller-Lust said she’s already spinning with the possibilities.
“On the sales side, we can use this data to find new sales stories,” she noted. “We can use it where we are looking at more advertiser brand-level information and how to target the specific type of consumers they are looking to reach. It gives us an additional ability to talk about heavy users of ABC programming.”