Inside Disney’s ambitious bets on measurement, data and programmatic

Linda J. Dodson

At its second annual Tech & Data Showcase on March 3, Disney Advertising laid out an ambitious plan that spans its portfolio and capabilities and aims to address advertiser concerns as the measurement and data privacy landscapes continue to shift.

Along with providing statistics and findings gathered since its first such showcase, Disney used the opportunity to announce a variety of plans, detailing its vendor-agnostic approach to measurement, providing an update on its clean room initiative and opening its self-serve platform to more agencies.

Together, the announcements — plus news that the company will introduce an ad-supported tier on Disney+ later this year — demonstrate how a conglomerate like Disney can bring together first-party data, a variety of broadcast, cable and streaming channels, and its tech acumen and industry partnerships to help advertisers plan, execute and measure campaigns that promise to meet consumers where they are and how they behave.

“It’s a big fire hose worth of hyperbole this week,” said John Rood, CMO at media company Impact Theory who previously ​​served for more than a decade at both Disney and Warner Bros. “I pity the ad platform that’s not in a conglomerate that can deal in scale as well as Disney can.”

Not ‘scoring players’ in measurement

In the wake of challenges to Nielsen due to undercounting during the pandemic and preexisting concerns over its utility in the cross-platform era, media companies are expected to start looking for new solutions around measurement and currencies this year. While NBCUniversal has started working toward a post-Nielsen future with its selection of as a preferred measurement partner, Disney is casting a wider net for partners, working with nearly 100 vendors as it looks to better serve specific client needs.

“We’re not in the business of score-carding vendors, but we are in the business of ensuring that the right KPIs that map to our portfolio, and our diversity of audiences that we reach, is reflected in the measurement partners we choose,” Lisa Valentino, Disney Advertising’s executive vice president of client solutions and addressable enablement, said during the tech showcase.

Among the partnerships, Disney is working to bring Samba TV’s True Reach and Frequency (TRF) measurement to agencies and holding companies with which it works. Disney has also begun working with Comscore and Omnicom Media Group, and has not shut the door on Nielsen: the company is taking the lead on the development of Nielsen One, a forthcoming cross-platform solution. Publicis Media will work alongside Disney on both the Nielsen One and Samba TV implementations.

“They said, ‘The good news is we have over 100 vendors,’ and I’m like, that’s good news? I’d rather have three trusted vendors.”

John Rood

Chief marketing officer, Impact Theory

Closely tied to both measurement and increasingly crucial first-party data is Disney’s clean room solution, which it launched in October. Built in collaboration with data technology companies Habu, InfoSum and Snowflake, Disney’s clean room is now ready to move from testing to implementation. Disney has tapped Horizon Media as a collaborator and is exploring a path to activation with The Trade Desk.

However, while Disney is boasting about the number of partners and tests it’s running, this could be a red flag for advertisers looking for simpler solutions.

“They said, ‘The good news is we have over 100 vendors,’ and I’m like, that’s good news? I’d rather have three trusted vendors,” Rood said.

Results after year one

Powering Disney’s ad-tech solutions is Disney Select, its library of first-party segments spanning its streaming, entertainment and sports properties. Since launching a year ago, Disney has nearly doubled the number of audience segments to more than 1,800, which are built on more than 100,000 audience attributes that fuel its audience graph. This type of first-party data is increasingly important as the third-party cookie and mobile identifiers face extinction.

“Disney’s audience graph is carefully cultivated, it is not bought or rented. We saw match rates three times that of third parties when running a data match campaign. This is what we mean by unrivaled data,” Valentino said during the showcase.

Disney Advertising reports it has seen a 70% lift in the number of campaigns that leverage these segments, and is seeing campaign results across categories. Disney Select helped one home furnishings brand drive nearly twice the awareness and 50% higher consideration than third-party data, while a quick service restaurant was able to use an attribution model that leveraged geolocation data to drive 39% more visits among consumers exposed to an ad versus the unexposed group.

“They can really create a robust targeting scenario for their advertisers,” Rood said of Disney Select.

Also celebrating its first birthday is Disney Real-Time Ad Exchange (DRAX), the company’s programmatic platform. Since launch, Disney Advertising has increased biddable transactions 70% and executed more than 8,000 video campaigns of various sizes, scopes and industries. Now, the company is making Disney Select available in the biddable marketplace, enabling first-party data at scale programmatically.

“Our promise to advertisers is to provide ultimate choice and control, simplicity and most importantly — drive outcomes — as the marketplace pivots to automation,” Matthew Barnes, Disney Advertising’s vice president of programmatic sales, said in a statement.

As part of the push toward automation, Disney Advertising is also opening access to its self-serve platform, Hulu Ad Manager, to small- and medium-sized agencies through a pilot program that will tap 25 local, performance and independent agencies this spring.

Disney+ adds ads

Disney’s Tech & Data Showcase highlighted a wide world of capabilities across much of its portfolio. Absent from the discussion was Disney+, the company’s subscription video on demand service, that — while expected to be a driver of the company’s future growth — does not currently run traditional ads. That is set to change: Disney announced on March 4 that it will offer an ad-supported subscription in the U.S. later this year, ​​with plans to expand internationally in 2023.

“Since its launch, advertisers have been clamoring for the opportunity to be part of Disney+ and not just because there’s a growing demand for more streaming inventory,” said Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising.

“Just as HBO Max surprises the industry with advertising on streaming, we will continue to see the same for Disney+ and all businesses that have a history of respect for great content and consumer experience.”

Scott Schiller

Global chief commercial officer, Engine

While details will likely be scarce until the company’s upfront in May, the potential for an ad-supported tier of Disney+ is certainly attractive to advertisers — especially in tandem with the wealth of targeting and measurement capabilities unveiled during the showcase. The ad-supported tier could help Disney boost not just ad sales but users, as it targets 230 to 260 million Disney+ subscribers by fiscal year 2024. While 33% of U.S. consumers use Disney+, price is more important when choosing a streaming service than lack of commercials and advertising, across all age demographics, according to data shared with Marketing Dive by media and marketing services company Engine.

“As streaming evolves to mainstream, offerings such as Disney+ and Peacock have found a balance that some ads are okay when they’re thoughtful, relevant, and combined with the option of a subscription model, allowing them to appeal to the largest audiences possible while funding broad appeal content,” Scott Schiller, global chief commercial officer at Engine, said in emailed comments.

“Just as HBO Max surprises the industry with advertising on streaming, we will continue to see the same for Disney+ and all businesses that have a history of respect for great content and consumer experience,” he added.

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