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Creating “Live TV Moments” with Disney’s Matt Barnes

In our Share of Voices series, we talk to leaders of the most important advertising and media companies who are helping to transform the media industry. They explain their vision for the future and the role they’re playing in shaping their corner of the media landscape.

This time, Walker Linares, Director of TV at The Trade Desk, sits down with Matt Barnes, Senior Director Programmatic Sales & Strategy at Disney, to discuss how one of the most prolific storytelling brands in history is viewing the future of television. Matt discusses recommendations for brands’ overall TV approach – especially as streaming TV viewership is accelerating – how advertisers are adjusting to a world with no live sports, and how Disney is still creating “live TV” moments in the meantime.

Walker Linares: Hi Matt. Let’s start by having you provide a little context about what you do at Disney.

Matt Barnes: Hi Walker. I lead the programmatic sales team, which is responsible for monetizing all of Disney's available digital video and display inventory. Additionally, our group architects the go-to-market strategy for how Disney continues to evolve its programmatic sales offering.

Our goal is to allow advertisers to buy Disney's premium content - Including ABC, ESPN, Freeform, FX Networks, National Geographic Networks and Hulu - whenever, wherever and however they want, so we’re turning on every connection point on every one of our products. We stay ahead of the curve by working with partners like The Trade Desk to ensure we’re providing brand customers with the very best inventory offering.

WL: Over the past few months, has Disney seen any jumps in viewership of any type of content or on certain channels?

MB: Overall, everyone is seeing increases in appointment viewing, but in the end, rich storytelling will always get the most viewership.

In April we saw spikes as a result of releasing The Last Dance – ESPN’s 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan’s last season in the NBA; the 2020 NFL Draft; introducing Friday “movie nights” across our networks and The Disney Family Singalong on ABC

In particular, we saw tremendous engagement with The NFL draft across all our properties. Streaming of the draft itself, but also across our websites and apps. And this allowed Disney to engage consumers across other channels as well as the live stream. We saw the ad market respond consistently with the way consumers responded to this content.

WL: How is Disney creating “live TV” moments in an era where live TV is not available?

Live is part of our daily dialogue and is part of the social currency in many ways. From our morning and talk shows and late night, to traditional news programming, and ESPN - live 24 hours a day.

We’ve seen how we can monetize news in a period like today. Traffic is surging on ABC News as viewers look for a trusted source to understand today’s environment. We inform users about the environment that we live in today, but we also provide entertainment and lifestyle content when consumers want to escape. So it’s beneficial for brands that they can buy across all Disney platforms together programmatically.

For ESPN, our reports show that we amplify every day live moments. When Tom Brady announced he was going to the Buccaneers, our viewership popped. We’re able to monetize those moments programmatically in real-time.

I’d argue that our strategy of being live has served us very well in this current climate because viewers want to connect with us, and our content and the characters and on-air talent they love. Even with live sports paused, we are capitalizing on moments that are still relevant to sports fans and ESPN viewers. And expect more opportunity when they return.

With The Last Dance documentary – all of the buzz that happens the next morning after episodes aired was just as relevant in terms of viewership. Fans reacted online on other platforms, for example, and those moments that surround these new “live” streaming events are super relevant to our audiences.

WL: While live sports are paused, what advice do you have for media buyers who are looking to adjust their approach to close the gap on that audience?

MB: The biggest takeaway for brands and media buyers to be mindful of is to not deploy a one-size-fits-all strategy for their digital campaigns. Some strategies for Connected TV don’t necessarily apply to live streaming or Video On Demand.

Take frequency capping for example. This is an area that gets judged a bit unfairly. Just because an ad is being capped in Connected TV doesn’t mean live streaming, and sports more specifically, requires the same approach. Ad recall is very different in a four-hour football game than it is when someone is streaming a regular TV series.

Brands need to ensure they’re interacting in the most appropriate way with consumers in all formats – live or otherwise. So, while digital advertising gives you more control, I’d argue that too few ads is as much a problem as too many ads.

WL: How should advertisers navigate the uncertainty of the future of linear television? What should they be doing now to prepare for the increasing viewership on Connected TV?

MB: The simplest way to answer this is that brands need to make sure they reach their audience on every screen. If they’re not, they’re not buying for every user. This is why digital and programmatic continues to be an opportunity for Disney. Buying every screen provides brands with total reach.

The way people consume is changing so it’s important to be everywhere consumers are. Connected TV is a huge piece of that. We want to give brands the ability to buy inventory how and wherever they want.

WL: Finally, what’s your favorite classic Disney animated film and why?

MB: I’d have to say one of my favorite films is The Lion King but my Disney favorite character is Gus Gus from Cinderella.