The New CNN Gets Into the Big Data Game

Will anyone buy against it?

CNN is once again trying its hand at the analytics game in the upfront, only this time it has the backing of a larger partnership. The cable news network is joining forces with Nielsen and Arbitron to create CNN All-Screen, which will measure out-of-home and cross-platform viewing to create a more accurate measurement for the network’s ad impressions.

(The deal was cut before the proposed merger was announced; presumably any potential regulatory hurdles won’t scuttle the partnership.)

The trouble, of course, will be to convince clients to put money against this sort of thing. It’s not unheard-of—Starcom agreed to try buying guarantees against an Arbitron-based alternative measurement system called ARB-TV in 2010.

Three years is quite a while in the data world, though. Nielsen’s Catalina unit is following the lead of giants like Acxiom into the world of addressable advertising. So for consumer packaged goods, for example, they’ll be cross-referencing viewer data with loyalty card databases. Another feasible category is automotive since vehicle registrations are easily obtainable.

“We’ve seen a lot more of these kinds of initiatives,” said Francois Lee, group client director at MediaVest. “There’s a lot more being done around addressable.”

Lee said he’s not opposed to the strategy on principle. “It depends on how the deal is structured,” he explained. “If they’re using the Arbitron people-meters for out of home, it’s conceivable that we would extend that as a currency.” But he’s also wary of false equivalencies. “In an airport, for example, you have no audio, just visual.”

It’s a strategy CNN needs to work; traditional linear cable ratings have always given the network’s footprint short shrift, and it wants to sell every measurable viewer. “The CNN viewership has always migrated to platforms where they can get more content,” says Greg D’Alba, president of CNN news networks and Turner digital ad sales and marketing. “Out-of-home viewership has always been important to the brand.”

And this upfront season, “shiny and new” is the company’s pitch to its advertisers. “We’ve built the platform to enhance our long-form programming, which we’re in the middle of revamping,” D’Alba says.

That’s an understatement. CNN is changing drastically from the top down. New boss Jeff Zucker is changing a great deal at the venerable news network—the former morning TV king is prepping Chris Cuomo to head up a new early show starting mid-to-late April, while Jake Tapper’s series The Lead will begin March 18. Anthony Bourdain’s weekend series Parts Unknown has already attracted BMW and MillerCoors; the latter hasn’t bought time on CNN in years and is putting brand money into the network (around craft wheat beer Leinenkugel) for the first time ever.

“[Zucker]’s moved quicker in six weeks than we have at CNN in probably six years,” says D’Alba.

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