Disney–ABC: How to balance analytics with creativity

DATAx New York speaker Gary Shanas, VP of media strategy and planning at Disney–ABC Television, discusses how the media giant handles evolving viewing habits, industry-wide disruption and what future innovations he finds most exciting


Since The Walt Disney Company acquired the ABC Network in 1996, we have seemingly entered a new "golden age of television". Content has exploded, as has the number of avenues to consume it. Digital streaming services such as Netflix have become mainstay, forcing tradition network broadcasters to think outside the box to keep their audiences engaged.

Among the most effective and widely used methods to measure and determine content success is data analytics. In an industry that caters to a myriad of tastes and styles, analytic insights have become invaluable in helping TV executives cut through the noise. But when dealing with a company and industry that relies on creativity, how do you decide when it's the right time to follow the data and when it's not?

Ahead of this year's DATAx festival in New York, Innovation Enterprise spoke to Gary Shanas, VP of media strategy and planning at Disney–ABC Television, about how the TV giant has utilized analytics to fine-tune its output and keep audiences switched on.

Innovation Enterprise: How do you use analytics to keep eyes on the screen?

Gary Shanas: Analytics are the foundation of all aspects of our marketing. It's not just one spoke of a successful campaign – it's the hub connecting all spokes and the wheel itself. Analytics help to inform our decisions in many areas, ranging from setting paid budgets, to building owned asset plans, targeting individuals, optimizing media and developing creative content.

That said, we are in a creative business that thrives on imagination and innovation. Thus, while we benefit from data, we never blindly follow analytics – no business should. But analytics do provide a strong foundation and we then augment that data with human experience, strategy and creativity, and together those and other factors inform our decisions.

IE: Many TV viewers lament the death of traditional media such as broadcast TV. Are they correct to do so?

GS: Absolutely not. Television is always evolving. We are in a transition, no doubt. Economic models are changing. Different media platforms are being used. Yet, the fact is that broadcast television is still the only way to reach more than 300 million Americans. And, consumers love the content the broadcast networks provide. Consumers can now get that content at lower rates via DMVPDs. And the ad effectiveness is second to none. So again, I believe what we're seeing is the continued evolution of media.

IE: What would you recommend to other people in other fields experiencing monumental disruption to their industry?

GS: The best advice I could give them is to seize the opportunity. Change is constant and the most successful individuals don't fear or resist it; rather, they choose to embrace change for the betterment of their organizations. As the saying goes: "Disrupt or be disrupted." I would recommend others do what they can to help their businesses to successfully navigate periods of disruption, take advantage of available opportunities and, in so doing, better position their businesses and organizations for success in the future.

Disruption can cause fear and self-pity. Do your best to avoid it. Every job has disruption; everyone is going through it to some level – it's how you handle it that matters.

IE: What trend are you most excited about regarding viewer habits?

GS: I love the bingeing audience. I love it because it means that it's never too late for a good show to succeed. I love that our business is transitioning from a launch-big-or-die model to one where quality shows can succeed with the right post-premiere care. We're no longer singularly focused on Live, Live+3 or even Live+7 ratings because viewers often will choose to binge-watch series at a later day. This trend will surely help quality content prevail in the future. And I think that is great news for our creators, fans and the industry.

IE: Do you feel like AI and machine learning will have a bigger influence on choices made by teams like yours?

GS: The impact of AI and machine learning can't be understated. The processing power, speed and decision-making capability will foundationally shake up all media plans. It has already but I don't see this business becoming fully automated. Machines need humans questioning results. Marketing is built on the partnership of creativity and strategy. AI and machine learning will improve our effectiveness, but more than that, it will provide information to humans, so they can better think through what is next and create the next big marketing idea.

To find out more on how you can elevate your marketing strategy with data science, visit this year AI & Data for Marketing Summit, part of DATAx New York Festival on December 12–13, 2018.

Book your place HERE.

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