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Week In Review: Trouble In ACR-Land, Whose HBO Is It Anyway?

1. Trouble In ACR-Land

So the New York Times recently ran an article about how some ACR companies are not exactly being upfront when it comes to collecting data, couching their permissions in terms of “making better recommendations” or “sending you special offers” and otherwise collecting data in a way that isn’t exactly in tune with the current GDPR-friendly atmosphere.

Why It Matters

While the piece chose to highlight a less than savory aspect of the ACR business, the truth is that none of that sleight of hand (sleight of TOS?) is even necessary.

One, because consumers really don’t care. That’s something we learned during our ACR study earlier this year: people assume that everything they do online is being tracked (and not without reason) and they’re far more concerned with their browsing, health and credit card data being shared than the fact that they watched “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” three times last week. Given what we learned, we suspect that if companies said “hey, mind if we track what you’re watching so we can send you more relevant ads and so we can get a better sense of what shows people are watching?” most people would simply not care.

Two, because the FTC has issued a fairly clear definition of what a TOS should look like, with an emphasis on clarity and simplicity. Given that this has existed for the past year and a half, there’s really no reason not to comply with it. Given the consumer expectations laid out above and the fact that most people blow right past the TOS, it seems like a no-brainer. Especially when that TOS pops up as they’re setting up their new smart TV and they’re ready to agree to anything to make it just go away. It’s like logging in to a site using Facebook: we often joke that the pop-up could tell you that you need to surrender your first-born child to Mark Zuckerberg and most people would still click “Yes” as they don’t bother to actually read the TOS beyond figuring out where to click to make the pop-up screen go away.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re an ad tech company and you’ve been less than forthcoming about why you’re collecting data and how, come clean: consumers won’t care and the entire ACR industry will look a lot better as a result.

If you’re an advertiser, focus on the value of ACR data: you get to find out, on a second-by-second basis, just how well your ad did, how it ranked versus other ads in the pod and all that. In addition, you can use ACR data for multitouch attribution, to find out which ads worked on which parts of the sales funnel and which creative units were most effective.

If you’re a network, ACR data is a great adjunct to Nielsen, filling in all those gaps and giving you a clearer picture of how your programming is doing, no matter where it’s running.

2. Whose HBO Is It?

AT&T promised to be relatively hands-off with its new Time Warner properties, particularly from a creative perspective. So there was much collective handwringing yesterday as yet another New York Times article ricocheted around the interwebs.  This one was purportedly a recording of a closed-door meeting between AT&T’s John Stankey and HBO staffers that featured Stankey telling them he planned to radically shift the business model.

Why It Matters

The original piece made it sound as if Stankey had ambushed HBO President Richard Plapler and his team, throwing this radically new direction at them in a room full of 150 staffers. It also made it sound as if Stankey wanted HBO to mimic Netflix, churning out content aimed at various audience segments and a lot more of it.

Fortunately Peter Kafka had a “here’s what really happened” piece in Recode, which confirmed what we and many others had suspected, e.g., the original report was a bit overblown and Stankey was far less confrontational and far more respectful. Oh, and no ambushes.

But he said/she said aside, here’s what’s really happening.

Think of traditional TV as a two-dimensional world and streaming services as a 3D one. In the 2D world, time is a factor, and if you’re running “Game of Thrones” on Sunday at 9PM, you can’t also run “The Bachelor” at the same time too. So you need to pick your audience and HBO has chosen to go after the affluent, upscale coastal elite whose media preferences receive get a whole lot of buzz for the shows they favor. It’s a winning strategy in that, unlike Netflix, HBO actually makes money.

But in a 3D world, you can have both. You can have “Game of Thrones” and the Twenty Percenters will watch that, and you can have “The Bachelor” and a different audience will watch that, and they can both co-exist within the HBO universe. That’s Netflix’s strategy and why they believe that investing in Shondland and Ryan Murphyville will not have any impact on viewers who subscribe to Netflix for “BoJack Horseman” or “Black Mirror.”

So more (and more diverse) programming via HBO NOW could potentially allow HBO to expand its audience.

OTOH, HBO still releases its shows weekly, so the linear schedule still matters.

But more than that, there’s the issue of brand and how that brand plays out in Hollywood. Right now HBO is still a prestige name and the top creative people feel that HBO will support them and their vision, holding their hands and opening its pocketbook in a way that no other network or streaming service will. As I told Tim Baysinger at The Wrap “The key will be to convince those people that sort of atmosphere still exists at HBO and that their talents will be appreciated. Because if that disappears, so does the real talent and the high quality programming. Money can only take you so far.”

Finally, there’s the $15/month thing.

With a limited number of shows, it’s easy for people to find reasons to unsubscribe from HBO, especially HBO NOW, for a few months. HBO knows that, they’ve tried before to have some sort of reason for people to visit the site daily (Vice News) and perhaps it’s time to try again. Because as App World gets more crowded, that $15/month is going to seem a lot more expensive.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re HBO, you need to stop your people from talking out of school to reporters and to share what you’ve learned with AT&T. Clearly you’ve thought about a lot of this before—you’ve expanded overseas (HBO Nordic) and you’ve launched two successful OTT apps. You must have a whole lot of anecdotal learning from those forays, a whole lot of research. Just don’t discount the whole 3D, taking time out of the equation thing.

If you’re everyone else—nothing to do but butter the popcorn and see how this plays out. AT&T has had a lot of time to think about this, so it’s unlikely they’re going to do anything rash or anything that would hurt the HBO brand.

Stay tuned.