Broadcast TV Needs to Utilize Big Data and Bond With Its Viewers Over Ads

People don’t hate all ads—just the bad ones

Viewers are still watching a lot of broadcast TV, and big data is only making it easier to engage consumers. Getty Images
Headshot of Marcus Liassides

Web browsers and mobile apps have been able to collect data for years—the proof is in the custom ads that pop out from the sidebars and banners, advertising everything from cheap flights to the trendiest shoes. Internet companies do this by gathering your browsing and search histories, which are then compiled and profiled into behavioral categories. This data is then analyzed and used to create relevant and useful ads.

In an age where attention spans are fleeting and the risk of being inundated by irrelevant, spammy ads is high, personalization is more important than ever. This introduces the question of why the user cases of data aren’t more widely applicable to television. You’re constantly exposed to ads, anyway—why not see the shows and ads that you want?

Big data is the new rage

According to recent studies, 53 percent of Wi-Fi households in the U.S. are now using at least one over-the-top (OTT) streaming service. While Netflix is the leader in the streaming sphere, with a presence in 75 percent of those homes, other competitors such as YouTube and Hulu are also holding their own. This increased adoption of digital streaming devices has transformed the way audiences view content on and off their televisions, and companies are leveraging this to create better content for their audiences.

Let’s take Netflix, for example. By using all the data collected from its viewers, Netflix has built a massive slew of original content, including giants such as Stranger Things and Orange Is the New Black, with the latter hailed as “a tremendous success” and “one of [Netflix’s] most watched original series ever.” In fact, OITNB has even gone on to become one of the most rewatched programs, a testament to the strength of the show’s plot, actors and overall execution. These are only a couple examples of original streaming shows that have gone on to boast comparable ratings to TV hits on channels such as HBO and Showtime.

This kind of success isn’t about guesswork or luck—big data and statistics play huge factors that all but guarantee more engaged viewers.

Broadcast is getting in the game

Broadcasters are ready to utilize data to inform their decisions, and the process is similar to the data collection methods of computers with one key difference: TV and set-top boxes retain far less personal information.

TV owners say that the commercials provided by digital streaming services are better and more memorable than those found in traditional linear TV programming.

Software within the TV or set-top box can provide a more granular look at viewing patterns and offer anonymized insight into what individual households are watching, for how long and when without any identifiable information ever being associated with the data. This data is then transmitted to a database where they are processed and used to help broadcasters create more relevant, engaging content.

Combining quality and content

According to IAB’s new report, The Changing TV Experience 2017, broadcast and cable television is still a major source of household entertainment. Consumers who use streaming services spend 39 percent of their time watching live TV, 24 percent watching streamed digital video, and 16 percent DVR recordings with downloaded and on-demand video to round out the rest.

When it comes down to it, streaming TV quality simply doesn’t compare to broadcast, with drawbacks including low frame rates and high latency. However, TV owners say that the commercials provided by digital streaming services are better and more memorable than those found in traditional linear TV programming. While these findings might come as a surprise, because it’s generally assumed that consumers hate ads, it just shows that people hate bad ads. This is why digital streaming content is considered more “engaging”—because targeted ads are more relevant to viewers’ preferences.

Fortunately, the broadcast and cable viewing experiences are clearly improving. Using data, creative teams have the ability to set up the parameters for success by creating high-quality content that is catered exclusively to suit viewers’ interests and needs. Then, the ads and shows they see won’t lead to itchy fingers changing channels. Ads and programs can be created or replaced based on viewer interests and engaging content continuously improved for an enhanced experience.

The benefits of TV viewing data are clear, and now is the time for broadcast television to position itself prominently in the digital future.

@marcusliassides Marcus Liassides is president and co-founder of Sorenson Media.