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Selling television ads has never been less about television. That is likely to be a trend throughout this season's upfronts, with one example coming from Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. In the week of March 23, the company gave a splashy presentation for its advertisers at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, where executives spent almost as much time selling Scripps' cross-platform, social and interactive features as it did its linear television spots.
"The evolution of media consumption has made it increasingly difficult to reach and engage consumers. At Scripps, this recent evolution has inspired us to produce more lifestyle content that engages passionate consumers on every platform," Chief Revenue Officer Steve Gigliotti said at the beginning of his opening remarks, setting the stage for an ad sales campaign that would be waged across devices and platforms.
The executive touted the company's "new and exciting ad innovations" that allow advertisers to reach audiences across all channels, traditional and digital. At the center of this innovation was Scripps Lifestyle Roadblock, which allows advertisers to buy a spot that shows up in the same 3-minute time block across Scripps' networks and drives viewers to related online content.
Once online, enter Big Data. The company scrapes and parses user data in order to provide a hypertargeted experience for advertisers. Gigliotti said Scripps' content, with its narrow network focuses on lifestyle niches such as food and home improvement, "gets supercharged" when the company can apply a vast catalog of consumer-level data.
"We've collected first-party data on 50 million consumers, and we can form hundreds of … audience segments," the executive said.
Then the ballroom darkened for a video presentation on Scripps Networks Digital, a pop music edit of beautiful young consumers switching between devices and clicking through screens of recipes, videos and products as they interacted with Scripps' various network content.
The voiceover explained that consumers can now buy products featured on television shows directly while watching those shows online. For a brand such as the Food Network, an advertiser's message can be delivered in the show beside the original video content and displayed alongside a recipe that calls for that advertised product. For a brand such as the Travel Channel, digital video content can easily display alongside destination information and booking opportunities.
The narrative then turned to a new, exclusive partnership struck between the Food Network and ephemeral messaging service Snapchat. The deal makes the network Snapchat's "only food publisher," according to the Scripps marketing promo.
As the high-level opening remarks gave way to the individual network pitches, the themes became less about the multichannel opportunities and more about the individual shows, old and new, that would drive consumers into the arms of advertisers. Here, television — traditional, linear television — was no longer just one more incidental multichannel to which advertisers could gain access. Rather, TV again became the centerpiece of the event.
But even in the presentations for individual television shows, there was a focus on engagement, connectivity, skewing younger and getting viewers to not just watch the content, but to interact with that content.
For example, the Food Network opened its presentation not with the success of its television shows, but with the success of its digital strategy. Network president Brooke Johnson opened her remarks by polling the audience about who sends Instagram pictures of food. She touted the brand's 24 million social followers. She then stepped aside for another video promo that showcased the network's multiple platforms, selling it as a "360 power brand," or a socially charged, multiplatform resource that drives food culture beyond the television screen.
Only then did the individual shows, and the televised experience, take the stage.
Not that these digitally charged adaptations in Scripps' or any network's upfront are a bad thing. As Gigliotti pointed out in an interview after the event, surviving a rapidly evolving media landscape takes agility. Scripps did with its event what networks have done in every upfront since the first: give advertisers what they want, from both a content and technology perspective.
"The way people consume content has changed forever," Gigliotti said as he concluded his opening remarks. "We believe, in the long term, that's good for our industry, and it's good for your business."
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