Helping the TV Industry Fight Back: An Interview with Data Plus Math CEO John Hoctor

Doni Schwartz Senior Director of Data Partnerships

FreeWheel and Data Plus Math recently announced a strategic partnership to offer the first cross-screen solution for TV attribution measurement. I sat down with the CEO of Data Plus Math, John Hoctor, to talk about the attribution measurement landscape, where he thinks the industry is headed, and why TV (still) isn’t dead.

Doni Schwartz (DS): Just a few years ago, marketers would spend millions of dollars on television advertising with no way to tell if it had any effect. What do you think caused this sudden recent shift towards attribution and proof of ROI?

John Hoctor (JH): Advertisers always had a very blunt tool for measuring that TV was driving results, meaning if they stopped running TV ads, their sales would fall. Digital’s ability to tie clicks to actions started leading advertisers down the road of figuring out a more granular ROI of different components of their digital advertising. Multi-touch attribution gained a lot of momentum about a decade ago, and it was used to try to figure out the effects of touchpoints along the consumers’ journey. TV didn’t benefit from that immediately, because of the limited availability of data that could be used to feed these models. A big difference today, versus just a few years ago, is the ability to leverage anonymized granular viewing data to feed similar models for TV buyers and sellers.

DS: So what’s the one thing you wish marketers understood about attribution?

JH: That all attribution is not created equally. Marketers really should choose to work with attribution partners that are transparent in their approach and transparent on how their data is being collected and used. There are a lot of companies popping up that say they do attribution, but when you take a closer look, it’s really not their core competency and perhaps the data they use is flawed. Marketers should understand who’s doing the math for them because, as we all learned at a young age, math is hard and you want to make sure that you are working with a company that’s focused on measurement and attribution—rather than doing attribution as a side hustle.

DS: We all know TV isn’t really dead, despite what you may sometimes read in the trades. How do you see TV evolving over the next two years?

JH: When people say TV is dead, they’re concentrating too much on how TV is being delivered. TV, or said differently, premium video, is actually being created and consumed at record levels. Consumers love TV, whether it is linear broadcast, video on demand, time shifted off a DVR, streamed to a full-episode player, or OTT—to a consumer that’s all “TV.” Over the next two years, the safest bet is that the modes of viewing and the delivery options will continue to increase. A few years ago, people kept talking about how everyone’s watching video on their mobile phones, and that they’re not watching as much TV. But when you look at the OTT providers, the vast majority of that content is now actually viewed on a TV set. TV is super healthy from a consumer standpoint. One thing you’ll see over the course of the next year is improved techniques for measuring all those viewing modes in a more cohesive way. That is something that is certainly part and parcel to what we’re doing with FreeWheel.

DS: Will we ever get to the point where we can say with 100% certainty that a purchase, click, or store visit was the result of a TV ad campaign?

JH: Even in a future world where you can click on any TV ad and make a purchase from it, you’ll always have to take into account touchpoints that preceded the final click or purchase. There’s no silver bullet. Marketers know that frequency matters and they know that one exposure certainly isn’t going to work on every potential customer. Marketers will always need to analyze a consumer’s journey. It’s also true that no attribution analysis will ever be perfect. There are always going to be touchpoints that marketers or attribution providers just don’t know about – like word of mouth – so you’ll never have 100% certainty.

DS: What’s your advice to marketers who insist that digital is the only way to see direct results?

JH: For many marketers, TV is the workhorse of a campaign and does the heavy lifting, while digital, just because of where it sits in the consumer journey, often raises a hand for credit that it doesn’t fully deserve. If you think about it, the last click is often the result of a search or a retargeted ad – but as a marketer, you really have to ask yourself what drove these consumers to your website originally? Was it a search they did for your company or a specific product? Then that search was probably just navigation to your site. Was it a retargeted ad on social? If you’re retargeting them, they were already on your site. Ask yourself: what first drove these consumers to your site so they could get retargeted? Look, there’s certainly some credit to be given to digital, and TV and digital do complement each other nicely, but when parceling out credit, marketers have to look higher in the consumer journey at the frequency that was delivered on television. When we work with marketers, the importance of TV in driving these results is clear, and often TV is being under-credited and under-valued. Our partnership with FreeWheel is helping shine a light on this opportunity for marketers.

DS: How do you see TV attribution evolving as more and more viewers adopt new forms of TV like OTT and STB VOD?

JH: This is at the heart of what we’re working on with FreeWheel. You need to measure those exposures. If you’re just measuring linear TV, you’re not measuring the full picture and you make the mistake of under-crediting TV. That’s certainly not the goal of the seller or the buyer. From the consumers’ perspective, it’s all just TV. At the end of the day, the marketer just wants to know what parts of their ad campaign are working and how to drive more outcomes. So a complete TV attribution platform has to take those new forms of premium video distribution into account in order to do its job.  Marketers that work with Data Plus Math and FreeWheel get that complete picture.

DS: What is Data Plus Math most excited about achieving in 2019 and beyond?

JH: What gets us really fired up is helping the TV industry fight back with these new data sets that are available and the analytics that we’ve been building. We firmly believe that TV has a really good story to tell and it just needs to embrace data and analytics to tell that story. Television does a really good job of helping get people into stores, find websites, and purchase products—but it has lacked the data and the math to measure its own effectiveness. Some of the most exciting things that we’re going to do with our partners will be tying together both traditional linear television, and session-based TV, whether it’s VOD, time-shifted streaming, or full-episode player, so that TV can be given the full credit it deserves.

Special thanks to John for spending time with us—we are grateful for his insights and partnership. We look forward to hearing more from him and other industry leaders at the FreeWheel NOWFRONT on March 13.