Traditional commercial interruption a problem for TV industry: FNG President and COO Randy Freer at Variety’s Big Data Summit


The biggest problem facing the television industry today is one of interruption, according to Randy Freer, President and Chief Operating Officer of Fox Networks Group, at his recent keynote conversation at Variety’s Big Data Summit with Cynthia Littleton, Variety Managing Editor, TV. During the half hour, Randy discussed the need to focus on and improve the consumer viewing experience, opportunities in direct-to-consumer platforms, and the importance of having more accurate data and measurement tools for media companies and advertisers.

Using data to improve the consumer experience

The industry has lost sight of the problem it’s trying to solve, according to Randy. He said: “We spend billions of dollars as an industry to create great content, then we spend a ton of money to get people to tune in to the content, and then we say it’s going to take you an hour because we’re going to interrupt you 16 times with 20 minutes of ads.”

The TV industry has to think more about the consumer experience and how to improve it so brands can better connect with large groups of viewers, he added.

“What we’re trying to do is look at the problems of the industry, the content business, and seeing if we can bring more and more data to the table to help us solve it.”

Randy noted that Fox Networks Group is trying to apply its own data coupled with other information like set-top box data to reduce ad loads by 50 percent without disrupting the value chain that comes from advertising.

Cynthia Littleton and Randy Freer at Variety’s Big Data Summit in Los Angeles.

Photo by Stewart Cook/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

The need for a better currency

Randy also discussed the apples-to-oranges problem concerning viewership data and comparisons across different platforms. To illustrate the point, he noted that Game 5 of the World Series on FOX delivered 2.5 billion minutes of commercial viewing. To achieve the same level of commercial viewership, YouTube would need three months, Facebook would need almost four years, Snapchat would need 42 years and Twitter would need around 260 years.

Randy explained that there is not only a difference in terms of TV’s ability to generate commercial minutes viewed, but also a difference in the quality of attention captured by a television ad. “We measure ourselves based on the average number of people who watch a commercial minute – full screen, full sound, all the way through, not as a view of two seconds or an impression,” Randy said. “If we used the metric that social media uses to measure itself, we’d get to a place where we’d have trillions of views.”

Going direct-to-consumer

Randy said that having a direct relationship with consumers is valuable because it enables a content provider to make an emotional connection with viewers, conduct consumer testing of products and services and receive direct feedback and data – all of which are things that aren’t as easily accomplished as a “wholesaler” of content.

Randy acknowledged that Fox, like most other major television companies, is exploring direct-to-consumer options. However, he added that: “It’s not quite as easy as saying, ‘We’re going to be direct-to-consumer versus wholesale.’ There’s a whole cultural shift within the company that you have to think about.”

He added that considering direct-to-consumer options doesn’t mean that Fox Networks Group doesn’t believe in the bundling of content. “We think, ultimately, that’s a good experience for many consumers.”

Read more about Randy’s keynote conversation at Variety’s Big Data Summit.