Surprising TV Trends From Comcast STB Data. An Interview with Heather Coghill

Heather Coghill Reveals Surprising TV Trends From Comcast Viewership DataHeather Coghill, Senior Director Audience Insights, Comcast Spotlight has been a fan of set top box data for years. And now, with the recent announcement of a new television insights study based on Comcast Spotlight’s footprint, she has more than enough data to discern both national and local market trends.  

But in a media market that offers a choice of many television performance reports, why release another one now? “When we first unlocked our set top box data, we saw that it was uncovering new insights which we publicized internally,” she explained. “We shared the results with our clients. Now we want to release the results to a wider audience.” Indeed, the insights gleaned from the set top box data dispels many myths regarding consumer preferences and gives greater clarity to both advertisers and programmers on viewer behaviors.

The Data
The report culls insights from over 17 million Comcast households across 65 markets. This is, “based on approximately nine billion hours of viewing data captured in Q1 2019. To put that number in perspective, it would take over 100,000 years to watch one billion hours of content,” she noted.  All of this data is managed by an analytics team. “We have data scientists and people who are used to working with big data and they cultivated it for us.”

For Coghill, time spent per day was an important metric. “The press reports that TV is dying, but in fact people are spending a lot of time with TV daily – over 6 hours – and it was up year to year.” The data shows that “TV is as strong as ever.”

A New Television Landscape
However, “TV viewing has changed,” she stated. “It’s not just about watching the four broadcast networks in primetime anymore. We found that 68% of time spent with linear TV is spent outside of primetime. The sheer number of networks that households are watching total over 34 per month. And the networks vary by household with cable accounting for 65% of all viewing.” The amount of networks viewed per month surprised both Coghill and me and is higher than other analyses based on much smaller samples. “If you just took the most watched network across all of our households, it is 308 different networks,” she added, which means that, “it’s getting harder and harder for advertisers to reach audiences at scale.” For Coghill, all of this speaks to the degree of fragmentation, “which we knew to be true but I was surprised as to how much fragmentation there actually is.”

The report found that primetime is not necessarily the highest viewing daypart, Sunday is not necessarily the highest viewing day of the week and the share of live and time-shifted viewing remained constant throughout the week. These insights hold great implications for programmers, schedulers, marketers and advertisers.
According to the report results, there was a significant uptick in viewing 1Q18 to 1Q19 with viewing on cable networks and Video on Demand (VOD) driving a large part of this growth. Notably, VOD viewership in Comcast homes doubled since 2016. 

Local Market Insights
“The data becomes especially valuable when you look at the local market level, especially when you get into niche audience segments,” because of the ample sample size that the Comcast data offers. “We can look at tens of thousands of households in many markets,” she stated. I found that there were fairly consistent viewing patterns across markets. Examples: The number of networks watched on a market-by-market level ranged from 30-37 and the amount of time viewing outside of prime ranged from 66% to 70%.

In comparing year to year trends, Coghill explained that, “While the big picture trends remain consistent across markets, there are definitely some nuances – households in Pittsburgh spend 6 hours 27 minutes with live linear television daily, while households in Salt Lake City spend 4 hours 41 minutes with live linear television daily. Households in Sacramento spend 1 hour 8 minutes with time-shifted viewing daily (DVR/VOD), while households in Miami only spend 35 minutes a day. When we get into the network level viewing, these differences become even more apparent.”

Stay Tuned
With all of this available data, there will be added analyses in future reports. “We are going to take a deeper look at viewing by market and by audience segments in an upcoming edition,” Coghill shared, “and these reports will come out quarterly going forward.”

This article first appeared in


The Unconscious Path to Purchasing Decisions

The mind works in mysterious ways, unless you are tracking the path to purchase. According to Daniel Codella, Senior Content Marketing Manager, Wrike, there are 7 psychological triggers that marketers can use to ascertain how consumers think and feel. 

Triggers are common psychological motivators, cognitive biases and behavior patterns. Knowing them can help influence and understand consumer interest, attention and actions. 

This is vital because, as he noted, “Ninety-five percent of purchasing-making decisions take place in the subconscious mind.” Product designers are especially adept at exploiting these triggers. “They are able to design products and apps that we have an emotional bond to,” Codella explained. But you don’t have to be a designer to apply these triggers. “People can be moved to action, enthusiastic persuaded to try new things just based on writing alone,” he added.

Here are the 7 Triggers:

     1.       Faith in Aesthetics. “The way that things look, matters a lot,” he stated. More than 50% of our brain is used to process visual information. Only 8% is used for touch and 3% for hearing. People make immediate judgments based on how things appear. Visual appeal can increase perceived credibility, authority, trust and value.

     2.       Request Justification. People have a natural tendency to comply with requests if they are given a reason why. “When people understand why you are doing certain things, they are more likely to follow through and do it,” he explained. When a ‘because’ is included, compliance increased from 60% to 95% in a study about cutting into a line. For marketers, be clear in what you will do and add something visual about your deliverable.

     3.       Social Proof and the Bandwagon Effect. Because we are social creatures, the actions of others serve for how we think we should act. In unfamiliar situations, we look to others to validate decisions, even if we don’t like these other people. “There is power in numbers,” Codella noted because feeling included in a group is a strong motivator. Interestingly, there are cases where aligning with smaller groups offers a sense of exclusivity. Examples are Facebook showing likes with specific friends, social-proofing our posts. This includes building momentum. Getting traction for messages, just as an airplane need momentum to lift off, is important for marketers. Codella suggests adding comments to your articles to get discussions started.

     4.       Serial Positioning. “The order in which we encounter information is powerful,” he asserts. People can most easily recall information from the beginning or end of a list. The beginning is the Primacy effect and the end is the Recency effect. So Codella recommended that marketers should, “Tell me. Show me. Tell me what you showed me.”

     5.       Availability Cascade. The more a piece of information is repeated, the more likely we are to believe it. Repeating claims such as The Best and The Most consistently will eventually get consumers to believe it. Repetition in social media is important because the average lifespan of posts range from 18 minutes on Twitter to 7.4 hours on YouTube. “People don’t pay as much attention to our marketing as we think they do,” he noted.

     6.       Curiosity.  This is one of the most powerful emotions,” according to Codella. There are no limits as to what people will do to satisfy their curiosity. Having partial information drives us to fill in the information gaps. But balance is important. Too little information doesn’t drive enough interest and too much makes seeking more information unnecessary. Tweaking blog titles so as to pique curiosity will drive traffic.

     7.       Labeling.  “We are a lot more like each other than we like to admit. We don’t mind being included in a group if we like the attributes of the group.” Codella cited the example of a study where people were randomly labeled “politically active” even though they were no more active than the other groups. However this group was 15% more likely to vote. Codella’s advice is to label customers by the qualities you’d like them to have and they will change their behavior to reflect those characteristics. 

     This article first appeared in Cynopsis.


Linear TV’s Moment of Greatness, Flickers

Image result for prufrockLinear TV has been having a tough time lately. Although rumors of its imminent demise are premature, those who confidently predicted the business was not being hurt by cord-cutting, for example, are being proven wrong. Long time sales executives, greatly respected by the industry, are being shown the door as sales revenues decline. 

As with T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, I have seen Linear TV’s moment of greatness flicker. Here are some of the reasons why:

Wishful Thinking on Cord-Cutting
Back in 2013 at the VideoSchmooze Online Video Forum, industry analyst Craig Moffet stated that cord cutting de-accelerated in 3Q13, meaning that it was going down, unlike what was reported in the mainstream technology press at the time. According to Moffet, the fact that it was misreported as accelerating, “speaks to a desire in the tech press for parables – overthrowing the oppressive MVPDs. But the math tells you otherwise. There is no question that people are cutting the cord but it is not a torrent. It is a trickle.”

Obviously that was wrong. Less than three years later, the cord-cutting spigot went from a trickle to a rush and now in 2019, Mark Huffman writes that, “eMarketer predicts that the number of pay TV households in the U.S. will drop by 4 percent by the end of the year to around 86.5 million homes. It further expects the free fall to continue, with pay TV subscriptions falling below 80 million by 2021.”

Lesson: We have to stop feeling that others are out to get us and focus instead on the reality of the trends … and act.

Over-Confidence in the Loyalty of the Viewer
How many times have I read that today’s viewers still watch lots of live TV? In June 2019, the NCTA released the results of a study that showed that two out of three adults watch TV live. “Notably, of the people who said they watch TV live on a regular basis, two out of three (66 percent) are most likely to watch via a pay TV service such as cable. While apps and smart TVs are clearly on the rise for many, and especially among younger generations, the majority of people still favor sitting in front of a television to catch the latest episode of their favorite show, to stay up to date on the news, or to keep up with sporting competitions.”

But the Nielsen numbers tell a different story. According to Marketing Charts, which analyzes Nielsen’s viewing results, 3Q18 was the first quarter on record in which 18-34 traditional TV viewing (live + time-shifted TV) dropped below 2 hours per day and declined 23 minutes per day compared to 3Q17. The article stated, “In percentage terms, the amount of time 18-34-year-olds as a whole spent watching traditional TV (live and time-shifted) in 3Q18 dropped by about 17.2% from the previous year. Needless to say, that’s a huge chunk – a drop of about 1 in every 6 minutes in just a single year.”

So what is happening here? Digital has supplanted traditional TV for youth. In the same study, Nielsen reported that 18-34-year-olds “spent one hour more per day in 3Q18 using apps and the web on smartphones alone than watching traditional TV.” And notably, many 18-34s don’t watch traditional TV at all – only 73% versus 86% of all adults.

Lesson: Traditional TV is less important to younger viewers and time is on their side.

Dog Paddling to Retirement at the Networks
The inability of some top management at some companies to risk implementing momentous change (possibly forfeiting short term profit or even courting failure) is the silent killer of the network business model. Sometimes it is because the system rewards short term efforts - bonuses are bestowed on an annual basis based on the year’s performance. Sometimes it is from sheer shortsightedness where they just don’t see how innovations can help their business. Whatever the reason, these folks stick to the status quo, essentially dog paddling to retirement.

Without naming names, one company who didn’t see the value of set top box data 12 years ago is now struggling to catch up to the data wave and, perhaps somewhat relatedly, just reported an 11% drop in the company’s U.S. advertising revenue.

Lesson: Think and act long term, even if you are not around to see it.

“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” - Prufrock


Building Programmatic Trust with TRUSTX. An Interview with David Kohl

Image result for david kohl trustxDavid Kohl, President and CEO, TRUSTX, has been working on issues like fraud and lack of transparency in programmatic since 2013. As a consultant, “a major media industry trade organization engaged my firm to evaluate and quantify the impact of these issues on their members,” he explained. “I gained a first-hand perspective on these critical challenges and saw a lack of urgency among many in the ad tech side of the business to address what was clearly a growing industry problem. It was then that I realized it was time for me to set out and take on this problem in a more active way.”

Kohl noted that “The complex programmatic supply-chain – originally created to make digital advertising more efficient – instead has made it harder for digital advertising to be effective.”

Charlene Weisler: How did TRUSTX get started and what is it?

David Kohl: I proposed the concept of TRUSTX to industry trade leaders, recognizing the importance of cooperation if we were going to make a positive impact. In September 2016, TRUSTX launched as a collaboration between the publisher trade organization, Digital Content Next, 30 of its members – all premium, professional content publishers – and some of the smartest ad tech software engineers in the industry.

TRUSTX is a purpose-driven programmatic marketplace singularly focused on restoring trust, transparency, and safety to digital media. We are a public benefit corporation (B-Corp) wholly-owned by the premium publisher trade association, Digital Content Next. This corporate structure enables us to go to market as a non-profit, with a mission to restore the promise of value to advertisers and their agencies, and to our exclusive membership of professional news, sports and entertainment publishing companies. We are the only purpose-driven technology company in programmatic media.
Weisler: What do you mean by purpose-driven.

Kohl: Good branding is about purpose and understanding your place in the world:  Why do you exist?  How do you change the world for the better?  What is the true impact you have on customers?  Leading companies are making purpose-driven business decisions around the things like the sustainability of natural resources and advocacy for equality, because it is core to their values and beliefs. 

In digital advertising, it seems that we’ve lost our values, or our sense of purpose. Low price, rather than quality, has been driving many decisions. But there is a high cost to that low cost of media: fraud, hidden fees, murky business practices.  Particularly in the last few years, we have let technology lead and we’ve lost not just control and oversight, but also a commitment to a baseline set of values in how we trade media and hold partners accountable.

Weisler: Who are you are your direct competitors?

Kohl: While we compete with other SSPs when it comes to supply choice, we do not have a direct competitor in how we enable 100% viewability across our premium marketplace. Unlike the major SSPs, we have a real-time viewability capability that pre-certifies an impression before it’s billed. Our methodology enables us to guarantee viewability on every individual impression. No averages. No samples. No questions of which impressions were and or were not seen by humans. Our approach ensures the cleanest, most effective path to quality inventory, and it has two clear benefits:

·         For brands, we not only eliminate any media costs for non-viewable inventory, our approach reduces buy-side technology and data costs, which results in higher media buying power on every dollar spent. 
·         Since we measure viewability on every impression, buyers benefit from real-time pacing to human and viewable inventory. This eliminates the time and resources normally spent reconciling impressions and managing makegoods.

Weisler: What are the areas of Programmatic that are untrustworthy? How does your company improve this and increase trust?

Kohl: Opaque trading practices, high fraud rates, low viewability and a general lack of accountability are big flaws that have given programmatic advertising a bad name. With TRUSTX, an impression must be certified as human and viewable in accordance with MRC standards before an advertiser is charged. The approach ensures that there is no waste. Buyers also experience 100% transparency down the publisher URL, along with 100% financial transparency from bid to delivery, reporting and billing.

Weisler: Please explain the sales process from planning to stewardship.

Kohl: At a tactical level, we try to educate our clients and prospects on what 100% human and viewable inventory can do for their campaigns. With average viewability at around 50% on most exchanges, that means that only half of the impressions in a campaign are seen; the other half are wasted.  

Spending time on comparative CPMs is important. The ability for TRUSTX to deliver 100% certified human and viewable campaigns may look more expensive at first, but once buyers understand the apples-to-apples comparison and see the results on branding or sales, they realize how cost effective we actually are.

After a campaign is live with TRUSTX, we monitor the campaign and offer bid reporting, insights on placement optimization and guidance on publisher supply.  Additionally, we offer our clients Media Buying Power scorecards and summary reviews that help them understand the full value of their media investments. Several clients have taken advantage of our transparency promise to execute custom studies, knowing we’ll provide both buyers and sellers with granular, transparent reporting. 

Weisler: What does the future hold?

Kohl : In the next five years, we anticipate the media supply chain to transform dramatically, with more control in the hands of buyers and sellers. TRUSTX intends to be how buyers engage with premium publishers in the evolving programmatic ecosystem.

This article first appeared in Mediapost