Inside Channel 4’s first-party data strategy

U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 has bolstered its ad- targeting capabilities with three new tools to target audiences across its streaming platform, All 4. The aim is to allay the fears of data-privacy cautious advertisers as the third-party cookie rides off into the sunset.

One tool, called Brandmatch, makes All 4’s first-party data of 23 million registered users available for advertisers to view via a neutral platform through a partnership with data platform provider Infosum. This data clean room doesn’t share the information anywhere else. Soon, advertisers will be able to shop for their target audience through a dashboard by injecting their own customer data, which will then overlay with the broadcaster to find matches. All 4 can model out the audience segment to target audiences on the rest of its platform if the data match is prohibitively small through partnering with Mediarithmics. A year in the making, Channel 4 is using the tool with six clients. 

“A lot of clients that we’re speaking to have valuable, rich first-party data and there are some very limited — but obviously scalable — platforms, such as Facebook, to buy against their own data sets,” said Jonathans Lewis, head of digital and partnership innovation at Channel 4. 

Publishers like The Telegraph and Immediate Media have been touting how advertisers can overlay first-party data. A significant driver has been the looming deprecation of third-party cookies on Google Chrome.

Channel 4, which has asked audiences to register details for years, hasn’t relied on third-party cookies for identification. Previously, the broadcaster built audience segments based on its own first-party data, but the choice of audience targeting was limited, said Lewis. Behavioral segments were built from a panel of 6,000 super users, like beauty lovers or DIY enthusiasts, or contextual targeting against genres like comedy or documentaries.

This gives Channel 4 a route to discuss with advertisers their first-party data strategies, broadening the scope and value of business deals. It’s also attracted new clients who aren’t as familiar with advertising on broadcast video-on-demand but would usually advertise with tech platforms, said Lewis.   

One benefit of using Infosum’s platform, which locks both first-party data pools and only reveals the matches, is speed. Previously, second-party data partnerships or centralized data pools between a broadcaster and a brand take months, if not years, of compliance and regulatory work. Keeping data separate removes the risk of data mismanagement, avoiding the sharp teeth of regulators. Campaigns can be running between 10 and 20 days rather than six months, said Stuart Colman, vp of sales at Infosum. 

“As soon as data leaves any company it slows the process down,” said Richard Brant, audio visual product partner at Dentsu Aegis. “This is a good way of getting things to happen quickly. As soon as [Channel 4] can data match, it can improve yield. But it very much still feels like a proof of concept for them.” 

U.K. commercial broadcasters like Sky and ITV stole a march on tech and targeting developments in recent years with addressable products like Sky AdSmart and ITV’s Planet V (which is not yet in the market). Storing data in clean rooms with a focus on first-party data strategies mean that waiting has worked in Channel 4’s favor.

“This is about making clients feel more confident,” said Mihir Haria-Shah, head of broadcast at agency Total Media. Last year, Total Media’s client wanted to overlay their first-party data with another broadcaster to see whether households who had been exposed to an ad went on to buy the product. 

“The data overlay wasn’t done in a manner our client was happy with,” said Haria-Shah. “Incorporating first-party data in a completely GDPR-compliant way is hugely attractive to clients.”

Most agencies are still heavily reliant on third-party cookies, whether that’s through access to and the type of data that’s available to them, ad frequency management, measurement and attribution. But the clock is ticking. 

“The vast majority of third-party powered solutions will be gone before the end of this year because the cookie will depreciate as users become more aware of the controls that can be put in place,” said Colman. “The time is now for those alternative solutions.”

The media industry continues to search for solutions for what life will look like once third-party cookies disappear, and there isn’t a silver bullet. The challenge for buyers is broadcasters are creating walled gardens to buy across. 

“I could have done data matching with Sky and ITV, but what’s the overlap?” said Brant. “The same applies to using different DSPs: You have no real defined ability of frequency management across platforms.”

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