Discovery has started using its first-party data to target ads across TV, digital

A year after Discovery merged with Scripps Networks, the TV conglomerate’s upfront pitch has advanced beyond its expanded footprint across traditional TV and digital. As part of this year’s pitch, Discovery is focusing advertisers’ attention on its ability to pinpoint specific audiences within that footprint.

Discovery has begun to use its own first-party audience data to target ads across its linear TV networks and its Go-branded TV Everywhere apps, which people can use to stream its shows on their connected TV, phones and computers after signing with their pay-TV accounts. Discovery has collected that data through people’s behavior on its sites as well as programs like HGTV’s Dream Home contest, which received 130 million entries between December 2018 and February 2019. Based on that data, it has created “just about 100 proprietary [audience] segments in the home, food, travel and auto verticals,” said Keith Kazerman, evp of digital sales, advanced advertising and research at Discovery.

Historically Discovery has allowed advertisers to use their own and third-party data to target ads on its linear TV networks and TV Everywhere apps through its three-year-old Engage ad-buying program. The addition of Scripps Networks’ inventory to Engage last year made Discovery’s ad targeting program much more compelling to advertisers, according to an agency exec.

Applying its own audience data to target ads across its linear networks and Go apps could help Discovery to keep up with the heightened competition from both traditional TV networks and digital platforms during this year’s upfront negotiations. AT&T’s advanced advertising unit Xandr announced that it will be using the telecom giant’s first-party data to target ads across Turner’s properties. Meanwhile, Hulu and YouTube already put their audience data and corresponding targeting options at the center of their pitches to advertisers, and data-heavy platforms Amazon and Facebook have entered the upfront fray this year.

Given linear viewership declines, agency ad buyers are looking for opportunities within digital to recoup those audiences they can no longer find on traditional TV. Helping Discovery’s sales pitch has been the “crazy amount of time spent with their apps right now,” said the agency exec. Each month 17 million unique viewers use Go apps, and the average Go viewing session lasts 82 minutes, according to Kazerman. That’s an increase in time spent from last year when the company said Go viewers were spending 75 minutes per session.

“It’s a much younger audience,” said Kazerman of Go viewers. Of the people streaming Discovery’s shows through its TV Everywhere apps, 69% are between the ages 18 and 44 years old, whereas Discovery’s linear audiences typically range between 25 and 54 years old. Nonetheless, Discovery Go viewers remain an audience that can be reached on TV screens, which continues to be something that TV advertisers care about and connected TV helps to bring more of those advertisers’ budgets from TV to digital, according to agency buyers. When people stream Discovery networks’ shows through Go, they are doing so on connected TVs 50% of the time, Kazerman said.

In addition to updating its ad targeting, Discovery is trying to prove to advertisers that its Go apps can deliver viewers that cannot be reached on its linear networks, which appears to be an attempt to convince advertisers that linear viewership declines should not result in ad budgets being redirected away from the company in search of those viewers elsewhere.

Earlier this year Discovery ran a beta test with a consumer packaged goods advertiser to check to what extent its Go apps are able to deliver audiences that cannot be reached on its linear networks. Kazerman declined to discuss the results of the test in detail, but he said the company found that a campaign’s budget would need to be higher than a typical test budget to deliver enough impressions to adequately measure incremental reach. To that end, Discovery is looking to expand that test later this year into a larger pilot program to track its Go apps’ potential to reach unique viewers. “We still want to have fewer clients [participating in the pilot] to ensure that we’re delivering consistency and create credibility for the product before taking it live,” said Kazerman.

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