Audience-based targeting is transforming TV advertising as marketers seek to reach consumers based on more robust data including their intentions to buy products and services. The shift has led Comcast Cable to emphasize a data-driven approach that builds on its foundation in local advertising for small- and medium-size businesses.

“Our roots are very much in local advertising,” James Rooke, general manager of Effectv, the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable, said. “That said, we are not a local advertising sales business anymore. We are an audience delivery company.”

Rooke shared his thoughts in this first episode of two conversations with Sean Cunningham, president and CEO of video advertising trade group VAB. Beet.TV and VAB co-produced the video series.

‘Sports Audience Didn’t Go Anywhere’

The company has a vast trove of viewing data gleaned from set-top boxes that can be harnessed for audience-based targeting, instead of media buys based on TV networks and dayparts. The data have provided numerous insights, including how the temporary suspension of live sports during the coronavirus pandemic have triggered a shift in viewing habits.

“The sports audience didn’t go anywhere. They didn’t stop watching TV,” Rooke said. “Their viewership has moved elsewhere, in particular to places like news.”

That audience likely is to return as Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League resume play — with TV offering the only venue to see games held in empty stadiums. The National Football League next month starts its regular season, which will be significant for linear TV viewership.

Strategies for Brands

With advertisers seeking ways to reach audiences more efficiently, audience-based targeting can help to expand the reach of campaigns and improve return on investment (ROI), Effectv’s Rooke said. The company recently analyzed more than 100,000 campaigns and 30 million commercial airings to find that campaigns airing on more networks had double the reach than on 10 or fewer networks, regardless of spending level.

The health crisis has had a significant short-term effect on media spending, including an expected 18% decline in U.S. TV advertising excluding political campaigns this year, as forecast by GroupM, the media-buying unit of WPP.  The firm expects a rebound of 5.9% in TV advertising next year as the economy continues to recover.

Comcast also has worked to develop content to connect advertisers with consumers at the local and national levels. As one example, the company developed a “Hometown Hub” on its Xfinity X1 platform to help viewers find local businesses, including ones that were opening as pandemic lockdowns were lifted.

At the national level, it created a virtual showroom for automotive brands seeking to reach homebound consumers, Rooke said.

He foresees the continuation of several shifts that will change how advertisers reach audiences on a broader variety of devices, including smartphones, tablets and TVs. Advertisers will measure reach based on impressions rather than gross ratings points, and will seek to measure how their campaigns affect business outcomes like sales.

“None of those things are groundbreaking insights, I know that,” Rooke said. “What I think is interesting is that the mindset shifts that have taken place in the last five months” of the pandemic.