Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The ability to track TV viewing in line with digital and mobile analytics for a complete customer picture is becoming a reality at Telstra thanks to pioneering technology and business strategy.
Telstra Digital Media and IPTV general manager of digital platforms and user experience, Dale Cohen, said publishers and advertisers have always obsessed about their audiences. Yet while measurement, testing, analytics and optimisation are becoming the norm for digital channels, TV has remained aloof.
“TV is the lingua franca of marketing; the gold standard we use to judge our efforts. CMOs and CEOs get it, and it receives the biggest portion of the advertising budget. But in a world of measurement, how do we reconcile TV?” he asked.
Modern audiences are fragmenting and demanding personalisation, and with the rise of other screen-based devices, multiple screen activity is commonplace, Cohen said. Convergence across movie downloads, registrations, app navigations, content metrics are all making it even more complicated.
“TV is panel sampled and there’s no easy way to get those views across it as well as other devices,” Cohen said. “Yet we need to understand the customer across devices, services and context. We have a lot to measure.”
Telstra outlined its efforts to bring TV into its digital metrics mix during Adobe’s Digital Marketing Symposium in Sydney on 16 July. The telco giant operates video services across multiple platforms in online, mobile and TV and distributes its own IPTV platform, the T-Box digital set-top box, which gives it an opportunity to measure TV consumption.
Telstra’s digital architect manager, Karina Sant’Ana, said the telco’s ambition was to have analytics measurement for digital, mobile and TV channels available in one dashboard, in order to gain a holistic view of its customers’ behaviour and engagement.
Having already deployed Adobe’s SiteCatalyst to measure its mobile and online audiences, the decision was made to try and bring TV measurement into that platform as well. Not surprisingly, there was a staggering array of challenges, Sant’Ana said, starting with the fact that no organisation had attempted to do this before. Thinking about TV as a digital, measurable channel also required a radical change in culture.
“We had to adapt all the valuables to the TV world,” she said. “We were literally trying to pioneer a solution.”
Considerations included how to identify ‘visitors’; keep sessions alive when people are passively watching extended content such as a two-hour movie; what type of code to attach to specific behaviours; where to host information; and how to work out when viewers tune in and out of TV programs to get a clear duration on a per user, per channel.
One specific technology challenge was how to connect and make changes to T-Box firmware, given it is only update two or three times per year. A strong partnership with its firmware provider, NextGen, was critical, Sant’Ana added.
In addition, there were a lot of unknowns to deal with, substantial trial and error, and a complete rethink of how to view TV audiences compared with online, Sant’Ana said. For example, the idea of ‘page views’, a key metric for online interactions, was inappropriate to TV audiences. All the variables within SiteCatalyst also had to be changed to suit the added channel.
Other specific metric questions included how to track marketing campaigns, as well as the different promotional tiles Telstra features on its digital TV interface, tracking TV navigation, and conversion funnels.
“Our meetings [between the TV, digital and mobile teams] felt like a United Nations meeting, where everyone talks a different language,” Sant’ Ana said. “We had to invest in education in order to define a common terminology, how to report and analyse the data, and then implement processes across multiple applications.”
One by one, however, the challenges were overcome and Telstra now has mobile, online and IPTV offerings in one analytics platform, Sant’Ana said, allowing the company to access a complete picture of visitor behaviour.
An initial data discovery was that content is consumed across channels in combination. Each T-Box has a unique ID code, which allows Telstra to also segment customers by location (billing address) and interests.
Using AFL TV as an example, Sant’Ana said IPTV viewing was consistent across quarters, but that Telstra saw a massive spike in mobile activity mid-year, thanks to additional mobile apps. This demonstrated apps brought additional engagement without cannibalising TV traffic.
“Users are connecting to the app while watching TV to check players’ stories, stats on the teams and so on while watching TV,” she said. “Consumption patterns across platforms are exactly the same and peak and decline on the same dates based on whether there are games on; the only difference between platforms is what type of content is being consumed.”
With movies, Telstra discovered huge growth in downloads on long weekends and school holidays. Sant’Ana also noted a ‘franchise effect’ on downloads when a new instalment of a movie is released, such as Ice Age or Bourne franchises.
Sant’Ana said cross-channel information is also improving its relationship with advertisers by bolstering their customer engagement. For example, Telstra signed a deal last year with Coles to build a recipe-based channel using a TV chef, and was able to provide the retailer with information on how long and how often people visited the channel, what they watched before and afterwards, and correlate data to the types of packages and services they subscribed to, and even the movies they downloaded. This information could then be used to retarget customers for other offerings.
Sant’Ana said the next step is to improve granularity (audience statistics are currently based on 10-second increments), understand the concurrency of users, access more detailed program-level data, track advertising versus content consumption, and fast forward activity.
“This brings lots of additional opportunities besides impressions and is a very powerful tool for us. To best utilise it, we need to align processes and our people to the right KPIs. We now have everything in one platform, which is a step in the right direction towards creating one experience for customers anywhere, anytime and at any point in the network,” Sant’Ana added.