Is Network TV Moving Toward Behavioral Marketing?

Just over a week ago, media powerhouse NBC Universal signed up for TV BehaviorGraphics, a behavioral targeting system offered by Simmons Research Bureau (a division of Experian) that fuses traditional TV metrics with consumer behavior.

This is a shift in approach for network TV. In the past, broadcast television was based on achieving mass audiences of rather broadly defined groups of people based on shared demographic characteristics, such as gender, age, and household income.

Though this news appears to show the network TV advertising market is voluntarily taking an evolutionary step forward, it may be driven by a more mundane, competitive necessity: NBC’s lackluster position in the ratings, even with its rights to broadcast the XX Olympic Winter Games.

Whatever the reason, TV advertisers may be able to look forward to a new and higher-level of targeting by factoring in audiences’ interests and preferences. This can only be a good thing.

What Is “TV BehaviorGraphics”?

TV BehaviorGraphics is a behavioral targeting system that merges the Nielsen Television Index (NTI) with the Simmons National Consumer Survey (NCS).

Think of it as consumer behavior data joined with TV demographics.

Essentially, TV BehaviorGraphics adds a targeting filter on top of traditional TV demographics so advertisers can target a demo, plus a behavioral qualifier such as “urbanite” or “sports enthusiast.”

It allows TV advertising sellers and buyers to plan delivery against a more refined target description and to acquire better-targeted advertising with their media investment.

The Simmons Research offering was released more than a year ago. Since then, it’s made inroads into cable TV but hadn’t yet signed a national broadcast network.

NBC Universal’s Gains

According to NBC Universal, the move reflects an interest in developing new metrics for sales and marketing and will help the network to better serve its advertising clients’ needs.

Whether other networks will follow is far from certain. In this arena, NBC has first-mover advantage in an ever-shifting shifting TV landscape.

Television has been changing rapidly to enable consumer choice and control, including as new formats such as digital high definition (HD), and new levels of flexibility over place and time of viewing through DVRs (define). It was only a matter of time before the advertising market shifted as well.

This is a progressive, strategic move. Perhaps it will gain favor with larger advertisers who have been struggling with network TV’s mass-reach value proposition.

NBC is currently number three in the networks ratings race for this year, according to Nielsen. With the loss of “Friends” and “Frasier” in 2004, the network is no longer considered “Must See TV.” NBC is struggling to keep up with ABC and CBS. Although the Olympic games boosted network ratings this week and last and is delivering the share guarantees made to participating advertisers, the network is still lagging behind overall.

By changing currency from mass demo-based targeting to something that includes audience quality measures, NBC could gain considerably.

What Does the Buy-Side Think?

Steve Piluso, senior partner and group planning director at MindShare North America, says there’s a lot to be gained by factoring behavioral interests into the picture. “Aligning consumer behavior with demographic information will ultimately humanize strategic media planning and placement,” he commented.

“Advertisers spend billions of dollars every year humanizing their brands so they can be more approachable and relevant, and therefore more palatable to consumers. It stands to reason they would want to do everything possible to create a brand dialogue between that humanized brand and, for example, ‘Joe Smith who is really into pop-culture and cars’ instead of just ‘male, professional/managerial, household income $50K,'” he added.

“Ultimately, being able to identify and exploit similarities between brands and viewers and television programming could benefit not only the brand,” Piluso concluded, “but the television business and the audiences who would receive more value from their viewing experience.”


Although TV has been changing with the times via such technologies as digital HD, DVRs, VOD (define), and so forth, many advertisers believe the market model hasn’t kept pace.

Certainly, many large advertisers still invest in the mass-targeting approach only television can deliver, such as placements in the Super Bowl or Olympic games. But they’re unhappy to be paying higher rates for a declining share of audience that’s very broadly defined based only on criteria such as gender, age, and household income.

By adding behavioral interests, NBC Universal is can evolve its network TV offering to advertisers and provide some level of access to targeted reach rather than just mass reach.

Though TV still has a long way to go (when will advertisers be able to dynamically select and serve an ad to an individual viewer or household?), adopting an approach that considers viewers’ interests, in addition to their demographic characteristics, is a good start.

Please take the time to participate in ClickZ’s short reader survey, which will be live until March 3. To thank you for your participation, ClickZ will make a donation to charity on your behalf for every survey completed. Details of the charities you can nominate are provided at the end of the questionnaire.

Related reading