A+E Networks Ad Sales President Peter Olsen On How Company Blends Nielsen With Other Tools To Ensure That “Every Person Counts”

Peter Olsen, president of ad sales, sees a blended future for the ad-supported TV business, but one in which Nielsen will continue to play a central role.

“Nielsen is still going to be the backbone of everything, as imperfect as it may be,” the exec predicted in an interview with Deadline ahead of the company’s virtual upfront today. “Newer players pushing into the industry all add a certain value. What we’re learning is that there’s value beyond the GRP or the impression. That’s what these new tools can kind of bring to the fore.”

The media business has been in a state of upheaval over Nielsen since it emerged last year that the company undercounted linear and streaming viewership. While there has been friction for decades between networks and the third-party firm, the epic pivot to streaming has set off a noisy scramble as tens of billions of ad dollars hang in the balance. For A+E, the privately held owner of networks like A&E, Lifetime and History, a combination of approaches suits its decisions in recent years to emphasize reach to viewers aged 50 and over and also guarantee outcomes to ad buyers.

During the upfront presentation, the company announced it is offering new content categories organized by genre. The categories include Historical + Documentaries; Biographies + Pop Culture; and Movies + Features. A new lifestyle genre, Home Made Nation, will focus on home improvement, food, and innovation content across linear and digital footprints.

The company also pointed to its recent research study, Total Audience: Every Person Counts. Shepherded by Marcela Tabares, SVP Ad Sales Research, the report highlights the discrepancy between how mature adults are depicted in advertisements and the way they view themselves and want to be seen.

Olsen said driving home the value of 50-plus viewers requires offering tools to supplement Nielsen’s traditional gauge of age and gender. “Two-thirds of our revenue is now guaranteed beyond traditional demos,” he said, noting there has been “a lot more acceptance in the mainstream” for A+E’s focus on “more mature” viewers.

“Clients get tunnel vision,” he observed. “What we’ve found is that if they open the aperture, business grows better.”

David Ernst, VP of ad sales research, said the company is committed to “working with clients to move beyond just a one-dimensional look at what’s happening. … We’ve got a lot of evidence about the way television works and the power of television.”

The company opted to hold its upfront virtually due to lingering concerns about Covid safety. The remainder of the spring upfront calendar includes mostly in-person events, with broadcast and cable networks as well as ad-supported streaming players returning to live gatherings for the first time in three years.

Along with its ad-focused efforts, the company touted the nearly 2,000 hours of new programming in the pipeline for 2022-2023, including premium documentaries and movies.

Olsen said the recent success of Janet Jackson on Lifetime shows the potency of the company’s assets and the ongoing value of reach via TV despite the wages of cord-cutting and streaming. (A+E hasn’t invested in building out its own direct-to-consumer subscription platform, setting itself apart from major cable programming rivals like Discovery, Paramount, AMC Networks.)

“You can still get an audience to turn up if you give them really interesting content,” he said.

Paul Buccieri, president and chairman of A+E Networks Group, said in a press release, “It all comes down to great storytelling in collaboration with A-list storytellers in-front-of and behind-the-camera. A+E Networks is a premium home for talent to explore their passions and tell their narratives, and we are extremely proud to partner with such a diverse roster of creators across our portfolio of brands.”

As the landscape continues to evolve, he added, ” We are providing our advertisers more — more programming featuring the world’s most beloved talent, more best-in-class opportunities to reach their targets, and more custom solutions to exceed their goals and deeply engage their audiences.”

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