As they head into this year’s upfront talks, the ad sales chiefs at Turner, Fox Networks Group and Viacom—Donna Speciale, Joe Marchese and Sean Moran, respectively—will have even more on their plate than usual. In addition to their standard negotiations, they are also working to launch OpenAP, the new audience targeting platform the three companies created to simplify the process for agencies and—they hope—become the industry standard. Marchese, who was named Fox’s new ad sales chief on May 10, will discuss OpenAP during Fox’s upfront event on Monday, while Speciale will do the same at Turner’s presentation on Wednesday morning.
After announcing the platform in March and unveiling more details at a presentation last month, including the news that Accenture will run the platform and provide third-party measurement auditing, the consortium is now working to get more networks and clients on board. Speciale noted that the three founding companies have been planning this for a year, “so I never expected us to walk into a company and have them say, ‘OK, I’m in.’” After meetings with many publishers, she expects to announce “in the next couple of weeks” that some of them will come on board.
Adweek reached out to all major media companies to gauge their interest in OpenAP. Several of them, including CBS, A+E Networks, Discovery and Scripps Networks Interactive, said they are open to the platform and have had discussions, but haven’t officially committed yet. (Only Crown Media Family Networks said definitely that it isn’t looking to participate right now.) “We’re open to whatever works for the business, because you can’t have nine versions of these tools; it doesn’t make sense,” said Peter Olsen, evp of national sales for A+E Networks.
Rita Ferro, the new ad sales chief for Disney-ABC, said while her team hasn’t been able to do a deep-dive yet, “we are looking at it, and any solution that drives more values for our partners and has an ability to make business easier and better, we will definitely evaluate.”
The biggest question mark remains NBCUniversal, which has already committed $1 billion in 2017 advertising to data-based, non-Nielsen transactions via its various data offerings. The company said it supports audience-based efforts like OpenAP, but declined to comment on whether it plans to participate.
Meanwhile, the consortium is also talking with clients about the new platform as part of their respective upfront discussions. The buyers’ biggest questions, according to Speciale: who else is on board (see above), when will the beta launch (the goal is by July) and whether the platform will be ready for the upfront (“That is our timing, so yes, if all things go according to plan,” said Speciale).
While buyers told Adweek they are optimistic about something they’ve long hoped for—a common platform for audience targeting—not everyone is on board yet. GroupM, which has built its own international audience targeting data capabilities, won’t be involved at this stage, said Lyle Schwartz, president of investment for North America, though, he added, “I think some agencies will find it quite insightful. With multiple networks participating, it eliminates some of the initial concerns you might have.” But he worries that buyers might lose a bit of leverage as OpenAP publishers are brought up to speed on the platform’s data insights. “If you can find the value difference between the demo and the [audience] behavior, we think it’s in the best interest to return that value to the client. Our concern is that if a media company sees the difference in the values, there may eventually be an adjustment in pricing,” he said.
Speciale hopes that many of the publisher and clients’ initial concerns will be addressed once OpenAP is launched in July. “I believe the beta is going to help us a lot, because it’s hard to understand tangibly,” she said. “It won’t be perfect; we’re going to have some learnings. But I see this as the first step of many steps.”