Viacom’s Kern Schireson: Welcome to the Datafront

By Media Insights Archives
Cover image for  article: Viacom’s Kern Schireson: Welcome to the Datafront

Kern Schireson, Executive Vice President, Data Strategy and Consumer Intelligence, Viacom, is responsible for creating and implementing the company's data initiaives.  He was front and center at Viacom’s recent Datafront event, which he says was the first of its kind for the industry and caused a bit of excitement in the media ecosystem. “There is much more focus on data and that focus has increased this year compared to last year,” Schierson recently told me. “It has become an open marketplace conversation. We at Viacom want to facilitate that discussion. There are hundreds of stakeholders in the industry and we all want to know how we can best bring the power of data to the premium content marketplace.” The rest of our conversation follows:

Charlene: Is there as aspect of programmatic in this?

Kern: Our data efforts at Viacom cover more than advertising. We use data for targeting -- who is the right audience and the right consumer? We seek data to help us decode the context, set the right tone for advertisers and to find the right environment for the content to be served. We seek data insights on what happens after an ad airs, the impact on the consumer and how it might shape attitudes and intent.

Charlene: What datasets do you use?

Kern: Viewing data, what and when, such as data from Nielsen, Rentrak and TiVo. What are people watching, who is watching, what feeling do they get from the content? We aggregate other data sources such as shopping, searching and online.  What are they buying?  And it is all collected in a privacy compliant manner.

Charlene: How can you predict ready-to-buy?

Kern: It depends on the category.  Autos, for example, have very good datasets that show when you last bought a car and registered it.  And we can see it by income levels, age and family composition. We know through analytics when a type of household will refresh their cars so we are better able to predict ready-to-buy. For other categories such as travel and technology we have partnered with Amex, which has powerful closed-loop cardholder data to help us predict what will happen next. This closed-loop data is then matched to Nielsen so we have cardholder data with viewing. We are fiercely committed to respecting the privacy of viewers and brands. Amex is in a position to match de-identified data from cardholders to STB data and understand the patterns in aggregation.

Charlene: Privacy is certainly a legal issue. How much is it a consumer issue?

Kern: The more fluent and digitally native a person is the more comfortable they seem to be with the value exchange of some personal information for more relevant ads and content. Our audience has a preference for more relevant messaging. We prefer not to send an ad for diapers to a single 17 year old. We prefer to send an ad for clothing or cars -- brands that they really care about. Relevance is good for everybody. But people are nervous so we want to educate the market in the correct way.

Charlene: Do you see a difference between TV and digital?

Kern: The distinction is tricky. If we talk about digital as being content fed over the IP, that could also apply to TV via a digital product like Roku which feels like a “traditional” television environment, as well as apply to Smart TVs. TV is professionally produced storytelling. We think of many digital companies as TV companies so we don’t have the right language for it yet. TV is a type of content, not a type of screen or delivery system.

Charlene: What is your definition of TV?

Kern: It is high quality, professionally produced storytelling across all screens and protocols. We are not in the business of plumbing (hardware, like the television box). We make great stories.

Charlene: How do you define engagement and how do you measure it?

Kern: People who are connecting with a piece of content in a number of ways both in the moment and afterwards. How relevant is the content in their social universe? How much time do they spend on the content? We also look at recall in standard metrics; now we can measure at scale in the social context. We also use focus groups and studies to find out if the content resonates.

Charlene: What are some of the results of the Datafront?

Kern: It was very well attended and resulted in some great conversations. I feel good about how we contributed to the dialogue. Some other media companies have asked us to partner with them so maybe we will join together as an industry. We also broke through with advertisers who felt that they needed that last piece of information.

Charlene: Where do you hope to be with the DataFront next year at this time?

Kern: I would like to see more folks participating -- publishers and buyers -- and to keep the dialogue alive. The more we share and collaborate, the better our efforts will be going forward.

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