An Extended Engagement

Jul 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Engagement worked.

Starcom and Court TV are reprising their breakthrough agreement from last year in which the network guaranteed the number of people paying attention to clients’ commercials in addition to the size of the audience watching its shows.

Last year’s deal, the first to account for viewer engagement, was worth about $20 million. This year’s agreement includes additional advertisers that Starcom represents, said Charlie Collier, Court TV’s executive VP and general manager for advertising sales.

This year’s deal will employ more sophisticated metrics, said Sam Armando, senior VP and media director of Starcom.

The deals reflect marketers’ desire to quantify the return they get on ad spending. With more money being spent on Internet advertising, where consumer response to ads can be documented by counting clicks, media buyers and TV networks are facing pressure to show that commercials reach their targets and have a measurable effect.

Court TV’s engagement deals may set a precedent for other networks to adopt engagement guarantees. Starcom is looking to base its ad purchases on other networks on factors that go beyond simple ratings, Mr. Armando said.

“I think the long-term goal is to spread this across other genres and other networks as we go forward,” he said. “The deal with Court TV has brought questions from broadcast and cable networks, and a lot of ideas that are worth investigating.”

In addition to Starcom, Court TV has made deals guaranteeing engagement with three other agencies: Mediaedge:cia, Magna Global and Carat, Mr. Collier said. Mediaedge has signed up for another year.

“It achieved what we wanted to achieve,” said Lyle Schwartz, research director for Mediaedge. “We want to take it to the next level.”

The other agencies are negotiating to re-up deals that take engagement into account, and Zenith is close to signing on as well. Mr. Collier declined to discuss specific negotiations with the other agencies.

“Because it’s been successful, those who worked with us before are interested in coming back,” Mr. Collier said. “We’re even talking to other people about intelligent ways to measure audiences beyond Nielsen.”

Mr. Collier’s bet on guaranteeing engagement appears to have paid off for the network. The guarantee drew more ad spending and the channel lost little in the form of make-goods for engagement numbers that fell short of expectations.

The network expects to meet its audience guarantees. So far this year it has posted its highest-ever delivery among total viewers and adults 18 to 49.

“We’ve been pacing beautifully,” Mr. Collier said.

During the fourth quarter, Mr. Collier said, the network delivered on 97 percent of the ad deals that guaranteed engagement, and missed on the remaining 3 percent by only a few percentage points.

“We made all of those good, and we’re pacing on or ahead for all of our partners right now,” he said.

Mr. Armando said the deal’s been good for the agency.

“We’re able to show clients that Court TV programming lends itself to engaged viewership throughout commercials,” he said. “It’s been good for Court TV as well because they’ve been on the forefront of promoting this and selling their network on it.”

Defining engagement has been a tricky thing for the industry, but Starcom and Court TV plunged ahead with a method last year and plan to sharpen it this year.

“We started last year with two elements to try to get to engagement, and they were retention and attention,” Mr. Armando said. Measuring retention through commercial breaks was relatively simple.

“We’ve recognized areas with attention that can be refined and in the end get a better result,” he said. “The focus this year is to home in on the attention portion and eventually determine a factor-an engagement factor-that’s a little more credible.”

The two companies are convinced that the research they’ve already done is important.

“We can prove that it all begins with programming and you create an environment and that advertising works differently in different environments,” Mr. Collier said.