Viacom's Bryson Gordon on Transforming the Television Business

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"My career is weird," confesses Bryson Gordon, Executive Vice President, Advanced Advertising Group, Viacom.  After starting his career "designing an ad blocker," he is now responsible for expanding Viacom's arsenal of cross media ad inventory by creating a great customer experience for advertising.  "But," he says, "business transformation has been a thread throughout."

Gordon's first job out of college was for a computer security company.  "We were the first to do software as a service (SAAS) before it was even called software as a service," he says.  "We fundamentally changed the business model for that industry."  Then at Microsoft, where Gordon held a variety of roles, he spent years growing the company's direct-to-consumer business.  "It was a fundamental shift in how it took its product to market," he notes.  Now at Viacom, he has found his calling.  "Here I have the opportunity to work with an amazing set of people and transform the television business. I love that."

I sat down with Gordon to find out more about how he will transform television.

Charlene Weisler:  Give me a short overview of your department initiatives.

Bryson Gordon:  When we first started Vantage (Viacom's data-driven and predictive ad solution for advertisers) it was very much about developing ad capabilities that focused on targeting, measurement, attribution, advanced audience modeling, etc.  I asked myself this question: 'What is going to feel different?'  Not just some corporate mandate, but when do we start to think about the North Star of the organization?  What will feel different about our capabilities and where we are going in this new advanced advertising organization?  The fundamental pivot is to shift from capabilities to the customer experience of advertising.  Customer experience is a loaded term.  But when we think about Viacom creating new formats and ad experiences across platforms we ask, 'Who are the specific audiences that really drive impact? What can we do as an organization of data scientists, information specialists, researchers and product development people to fundamentally evolve the customer experience with advertising so that it is incredible for our customers and for our partners?'

Charlene:  How will you achieve that?

Bryson:  Our team has historically been made up of product managers and data scientists.  Now the team spans product management, data science, developers and designers -- people who are specialists in the launch of multi-platform environments where content ends up: the social and digital environment.  Then we focus on creating not just traditional advertising but also branded marketing content to create the optimal advertising and marketing experiences for our fans in that environment. Then we ask ourselves what we can do to actually orchestrate that in a very thoughtful and methodical way around advanced audience targets that we develop within the organization.

Charlene:  How will your work influence or impact OpenAP?

Bryson:  OpenAP is foundational to what we are doing within advanced advertising.  The focus that Sean Moran, Head of Sales at Viacom, has given us is the opportunity to go across all the different ad formats -- from digital to social to linear television to OTT to addressable television -- in our portfolio.  As we continue to evolve with OpenAP, which launches in the fall, we are taking this notion of consistent advanced audience targeting beyond just the traditional linear television screen into the multi-platform environment.

Charlene:  What are the overall goals that you want to achieve now and over the next three years?

Bryson:  I start from the position of the customer.  My odd principle that has stuck with me over the years is: Revenue is a byproduct of great customer experience.  It is simple, but if we use that as a lens through which to assess the set of investments we make in the advanced advertising organization, it gives us tremendous focus.  It helps us understand what we need to do to make the ad experience in traditional linear television even better.  How do we do that through better targeting and through better formats?  We think about the customer journey in Viacom content that cuts across platforms.  What can we do, not just to connect, but to actually orchestrate that?  That is the thing that a year from now, I would like to look back and say was the fundamental thing I wanted to achieve -- and that I did indeed achieve it.

Charlene:  Are you developing attribution models to help you do that?

Bryson:  We have been developing attribution models for a couple of years.  Interestingly, our ability to drive precise measurement against advanced advertising on television and across multiple channels has facilitated scaling adoption of this new currency of TV.  An example --  for a large automotive client who has done a number of campaigns with us we have that ability to take their target, connect that target back to an addressable set top box, connect that to mobile phone Geo location data and actually show them not only the physical list of people going to the auto dealership in a specific window after the campaign but also show them which specific dealers have the best local marketing investment on top of the national spend that was driving the highest lift for their specific region.

Charlene:  Can you influence the ad market with your work?

Bryson:  I do, because I have already seen that with the reception of Vantage and OpenAP.  We continue to see significant year-to-year growth in both the number of advertisers who are adopting advanced currencies and the amount of dollars flowing through advanced advertising currencies.

Charlene:  Your team comes from many different areas.  How do you get them to strategize together?

Bryson:  I deliberately try to not place them together.  One of the things we found that is super interesting is that I have hired a lot of people who don't know anything about television.  I hired a PhD in neuroscience from Toronto whose PhD was about how deep memories get formed in the brain.  He doesn't know the first thing about GRPs or Nielsen demos.  What he does know is how you actually influence people and how you drive deep persuade-ability.  We have people who bring perspective and expertise to our team that doesn't look anything like the TV industry looked like over the past 20 years.  It makes for an environment where we can have hackathon-style meetings and have people from industry, academia, science, economics and anthropology mixed with people with deep expertise in television.  Great things happen.

Charlene:  How are you measuring results for advertisers and campaigns?

Bryson:  There is a lot of customization depending on who is behind it and what the campaign is.  One of the first conversations we have with an advertiser is: What are the KPIs that are important to you?  Do you want to see a higher density of people within the segment?  Do you want to see more de-duplicated reach within a segment?  Do you want to measure physical lift to a restaurant, auto dealership or a retailer?  We give them all of the normal measurements such as impressions delivered against your custom audience, but we also do a lot of custom reporting for clients, depending on what they are trying to achieve.  These buys are guaranteed as a currency with in-target delivery.  It makes people really comfortable.

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