A+E Networks Will Offer Performance-Based Guarantees for Some Upfront Inventory

Promising brands that their ads will drive metrics like website visits and foot traffic

The performance-based guarantees will be available on shows across A+E Networks' portfolio, including History's Six. History
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During this upfront season, every network is trying to woo buyers with the promise that television is the best medium to deliver their messages to consumers. But A+E Networks will actually be putting its money where its mouth is, in what it says is an industry first: offering performance-based guarantees for some of its upfront inventory around metrics that prove TV’s ability to drive behavior.

The company has spent the past year beefing up its audience-based targeting platform, A+E Precision (which identifies the proper placements across the company’s portfolio,) and its attribution product, A+E Performance (which will access a campaign’s effectiveness according to the client’s preferred metrics).

“We thought, why not just put it on the line and make it part of a limited number of guarantees this upfront? We’ve always known that TV works,” said Peter Olsen, evp of ad sales, A+E Networks, who is “trying to level the playing field” as some digital companies “are trying to take full credit for the action of the consumer, and we feel that TV has played a big role in that action.”

The company’s A+E Performance product works with the Attribution Council, an industry initiative led by Data Plus Math, to measure how advertising drives outcomes, using analytics partners including Nielsen Catalina, Millward Brown, Acxiom and iSpot.tv.

“We think we’re the first TV company to do it,” said Olsen of the performance-based guarantee. “This is a groundbreaking moment.”

“We think we’re the first TV company to do it. This is a groundbreaking moment.”
Peter Olsen, evp of ad sales, A+E Networks

The outcome-based guarantees are taking the audience-targeting offerings of A+E competitors “a step further and saying, instead of just guaranteeing a heavy index on ‘truck intenders,’ we will guarantee X number of visits to that auto website,” said Olsen.

The offering will be available to a “handful” of clients in the upfront, and will expand after the first year, said Olsen. Initial performance-based guarantees will likely be limited to website visits and foot traffic, which are “the two metrics we feel most confident in and have early test results on. We know TV and video activity drives this behavior, but there’s a roadmap to partnerships that will touch almost every category as we build this thing out.”

Olsen expects that the guaranteed outcomes will be only a part of clients’ upfront buys, alongside traditional age-sex demo guarantees and other audience-based commitments.

A+E Precision will identify content across the company’s entire portfolio, not just linear but also digital, OTT and social platforms. “If we believe that audience will help drive the outcome, it will all be part of the deal,” said Olsen. “That’s part of the discussion with clients: you can’t cherry-pick two or three shows, because it has to be the whole power of our portfolio, and we think we can find the audience and the content that will drive that outcome.”

While some clients have expressed frustration with audience-based offerings, which they sometimes see as a way to make them spend more money than they’d anticipated, “we believe when you go to this type of guarantee, the questionable motive goes out the window because it’s rooted in what matters,” said Olsen. “We’re only going to push for those things that will literally drive the results.”

Last December, A+E Networks was one of a few media companies, including Discovery and Fox News, to begin testing the Data Plus Math attribution model formerly called Thor, which will help show how TV ads impact actual product sales.

A+E is rolling out this offering for the upfront because “the company is in a pretty good place,” especially with A&E and History’s ratings, said Olsen, who stressed A+E’s brand stability at March’s upfront event.

In addition to its targeting initiatives, the company is also working to help brands think of new ways to reach consumers with studies like its recent look at how financial brands should market to women.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.