21CF Chats: Fox Networks Group President of Advertising Sales Toby Byrne talks upfront changes, C3 vs. C7 and ‘views’

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This morning, FOX announced its new primetime series for the 2016-17 season, which included a historic slate of original programming for the network. Tonight, Toby Byrne, President of Advertising Sales for Fox Networks Group, will address an audience of about 2,500 people at the 2016 FOX upfront programming presentation at the Beacon Theater in New York, which will include advertisers, Fox executives and others.

I spoke with Toby before he took the stage to hear his thoughts on how the upfront season has changed recently, the move toward data and technology in advertising, and what he hopes advertisers will walk away with after tonight.

How has the upfront season changed in the last five or 10 years?

The biggest change is that it used to be that TV was just TV. The upfront marketplace was buying and selling commercial time on the linear network. And now it’s evolved into a multiplatform product and negotiation. We are no longer a TV broadcaster or a cable network or a digital platform. We are a premium content company, creating both premium content and premium environments. Further, having unified and reorganized our Sales group over a year ago in January 2015, we’re now selling all of our assets together – the full breadth of all of Fox Networks’ entertainment and sports portfolio across broadcast, cable and digital. We’re also applying new data capabilities across the portfolio, introducing more precise targeting and automation into our sales efforts.

What do you hope advertisers will walk away with from the FOX upfront this year? How do the new and returning shows contribute to that narrative?

It’s an incredibly exciting time at Fox Networks, from the broadcast network to FOX Sports to FX to National Geographic. FOX is coming off of a good year led by the No. 1 show on broadcast, “Empire,” and our new series are already receiving tremendous feedback from advertisers, including “24: Legacy,” “Prison Break,” “Star,” “Pitch” and “Lethal Weapon.” We have the Super Bowl this year, which is just one of an unbelievable string of major championships — more than anyone else — from the US Open, to Major League Baseball and the World Series, to the NFC Championship, to the Daytona 500, and everything in between. FX is coming off of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” which is the biggest series in FX history, and has anticipated series “Taboo” and “Atlanta” coming up. National Geographic has a new programming strategy with an emphasis on quality as the leader in science and exploration, unveiling new projects like “Mars” and “Genius.” We have premium content across the board.

Now that digital platforms have NewFronts, has that diluted any of the energy of the upfront?

No, it doesn’t take away from our upfront. Every year we have amazing attendance and a shortage of tickets, which speaks to the industry’s interest in our business.

I understand FOX has moved to C7 for a lot of its sales. Where are you on that? How much is sold on C7 now?

Certainly everyone wants to sell their programing across all of their platforms – and to get value for their programming across those platforms. Given what we know about viewer consumption, restricting sales to C3 is something we’re determined to change. We do more than half our deals on C7, and we will continue to push for that currency.

How do you compete with digital platforms that make wild claims about the number of “views” they garner? Do you find yourself educating advertisers about this topic?

Yes. Our fantastic programming – and the level of attention and engagement it captures – is a point of distinction from other platforms where they capture only brief moments of interest. There’s been a lot of emphasis on the varying metrics that are being used to report our consumption versus that of pure digital, but they are not apples-to-apples comparisons. When you convert their metrics to average audience or average time spent, it becomes clear that they can’t compete with the kind of scale that we have and the attention that we deliver. We continue to combat the perception that premium television environments across platforms are interchangeable with new media options, but great progress has been made this past year in shining a light on low engagement environments with fraudulent activity and viewability issues.

There’s been a clear move toward more data and technology capabilities in advertising. Can you talk about what you’re doing to take advantage of this trend?

We recently announced Fox Audience Insights Manager (AIM), a suite of data-enhanced buying tools designed to aid advertisers in improving the effectiveness of their linear and nonlinear buys beyond traditional age and gender demographics. AIM refines our ability to deliver more precise target audience segments. Agencies have been using their own data to steer their investment decisions, and now we have an opportunity to have a more meaningful data-focused conversation.

What excites you most about this upfront season?

We’ve had a healthy advertising market this past year and are carrying positive momentum into the upfront season. Our programming across all of our screens is a really valuable vehicle and a core component of impactful media campaigns. Premium entertainment and sports content is a difference maker, and at Fox Networks, our portfolio is unparalleled. We have compelling television that demands and earns attention across all platforms, and it sets us apart.