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A+E Networks Tries to Forge Connections Between Ads, Consumer Actions

Prices for TV commercials have long been determined based on how many people were expected to see them. But A+E Networks is trying to advance a different kind of vision.

The TV company, a joint venture of Disney and Hearst, is introducing a new research effort that aims to show sponsors how many actions their commercials spur consumers to take. After all, whether someone sees an ad may be less important, ultimately, than whether someone is prompted by the pitch to visit a car showroom, surf for more information online, or buys a ticket to see a movie. All this comes as advertisers have begun working more intently to demonstrate a connection from showing a commercial to affecting a particular “business outcome.”

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“As the tech players have entered the video space, they are able to offer such a robust connection to commerce and to search. Our thinking is that traditional players can’t just rely on Nielsen or VideoAmp counting differently. That’s not going to be enough,” says Peter Olsen, executive vice president of ad sales. “We have to prove more how we can deliver results based on business outcomes.”

The A+E effort, dubbed “InterAction,” will analyze attention, recall and search engagement via data from TVision, a company that analyzes how viewers watch TV; Brand Effect; and EDO, an analytics company founded by actor Ed Norton that has forged several alliances with media  companies and marketers trying to understand audience behaviors.

A+E makes its pitch as traditional media companies face strong digital competition as well as a tighter flow of ad dollars. Spurred by recent dynamics during the economic uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, advertisers are holding more closely to their dollars, realizing they can often get the digital inventory they need closer to the time their business efforts require marketing blitzes. Meanwhile, big U.S. auto companies and consumer-electronics marketers have pulled back on ad spending in recent quarters, according to executives familiar with recent discussions between TV networks and Madison Avenue.

Tying commercials to actual consumer action – also known as “attribution” — is a relatively nascent practice, but one that has come under increasing scrutiny. In 2018, Discovery Communications, Fox News, A + E Networks, AMC Networks, CBS Corp.,  and Disney ABC Television pursued a trial of technology that sought to tie exposure to video ads to an actual customer action. Nielsen is among the entities that have struck an alliance with EDO.

“Outcomes are critical, and you are going hear more about that,” says Deirdre Thomas, chief product officer of Nielsen.

For A+E, offering distinctive services to advertisers is becoming more important. The company does not offer a stand-alone streaming service, though it has sold some of its series for use by other streamers. Executives have begun to describe the company as a sort of “boutique” publisher that specializes in programming that strikes a chord, such as History Channel documentaries or Lifetime movies ,and that continues to generate interest and viewership after their original linear runs.

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