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NAB Show’s Online Video Conference Sizes Up Shift to Audience Buying

The NAB Show in Las Vegas, which is wrapped up Thursday, has grown into a fascinating collection of smaller shows under the big tent. The traditional core remains a gearheads’ geek-out, with vast amounts of convention-hall space devoted to antennas, camera equipment, drones and the like. Wander the booths and you’ll overhear plenty of arguments about compression and cloud infrastructure, as well as reminiscences about the days of Big Iron.

Wrapped within the main show, though, is a start-up hub called Sprockit; and verticals for finance, sports and cinema. This year, Google and Facebook each boosted their presence significantly, and cast a long shadow on conversations across Sin City.

One of the most substantive shows-within-the-NAB-Show is always the Online Video Conference, which is programmed by Will Richmond, editor and publisher of streaming site VideoNuze. This year’s edition kicked off with a keynote conversation between Richmond and CBS Chief Digital Officer Jim Lanzone. The session’s most striking takeaway concerned two-year-old stand-alone OTT service CBS All-Access, which has surpassed 1 million subscribers and is on track, Lanzone says, to reach 4 million subs by 2020.

That growth is not coming from millennial cord-cutters, though. “It’s an early-40s audience — only 30% of the audience is millennial,” said Lanzone, who is also CEO of CBS Interactive as well as Chief Digital Officer of CBS Corp. “And the vast majority are pay-TV subscribers.”

While that session featured a trove of brand-new data, a later panel caught my attention, and not just because of its blunt title, “Advanced TV Advertising is Here. Let’s Make Some Money.”

Moderator Howard Homonoff, a senior vice president of Medialink, joked that he barely managed to get three questions in, and he wasn’t exaggerating. He really just rolled the ball out on the court and let the all-star panelists — Lorne Brown, president of SintecMedia; Scott Ferber, CEO of Videology; Rany Ng, director of product management at Google; James Rooke, GM of publisher platforms at Freewheel; and Nick Troiano, CEO of Cross MediaWorks — pass it around.

The core theme of the vigorous discussion: the evolution of media buying away from age and gender, and toward a host of other data points. Ferber sounded a bullish note on how it is all progressing. “We are headed to an outcome-based measurement world faster than we all realize,” he said. “I am surprised at how fast people are picking it up.” Rooke agreed, noting dramatic changes in recent years. “If you look back three or four years, audience once trumped everything,” Rooke said. “But that wasn’t very favorable for brand marketers.”

Several panelists cited NBCUniversal’s announcement earlier this year that it would reserve $1 billion in inventory to be sold against indicators other than age or gender.

Brown, who became CEO of SintecMedia after it acquired Operative last November, said agency culture holds the key to true progress. “Agencies were very much resistant to audience-based buying,” he said. “Now, they have to do it. Because if they don’t do it, they won’t get new clients. And they have to do it safely.”

When they are evaluating the effectiveness of campaigns, he added, “It’s kind of like, the agency is going to look at the network as the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend and ask, ‘Did they deliver everything I was promised?’ Because at the end of the day, an agency buys a certain amount. If they put up $10 million, they want to see $10 million in value. Anything short of that won’t be acceptable.”

After Ng made the point that Google and others with analytics capability need to “help our publishers understand the value of their content,” Troiano offered a different take. “We use the word ‘publisher,’” he said, “but people in the room don’t feel like publishers. They feel like TV companies. They’re local broadcasters, they’re networks, or they’re MVPDs. And oftentimes, especially if you’re a network, selling media does not go through an RFP process. It’s through a negotiation, which is more like a game of poker than an actual scientific transaction. And that’s a line everyone has to balance on very carefully as they go through this.”

Referring back to the NBCU plan, he added, “That billion dollars will be transacted before anybody even knows which audiences are being targeted.”