Coffee With Ad Age: Talking Future of TV With Jesse Redniss

There are few people as passionate about the intersection between TV and digital as Jesse Redniss.

Best known for helping to define USA Network's digital strategy, Mr. Redniss has immersed himself in the world of startups and data, looking to crack the code on how traditional media companies can partner with innovative newcomers to evolve the TV ecosystem.


Along with David Beck, formerly of Univision, and Gary Vaynerchuck, of Vayner Media, Mr. Redniss formed Brave Ventures in September. The advisory firm and incubator is designed to assist both top media brands and startups on social TV, multi-screen and interactive storytelling.

Most recently Mr. Redniss served as chief strategy officer at Spredfast, a social-media marketing firm.

Mr. Redniss sat down over coffee with Ad Age's Editorial Director Simon Dumenco and TV reporters Jeanine Poggi and Anthony Crupi, to discuss media startups, TV measurement and the future of agencies.

Ms. Poggi: What are some startups that you find interesting right now?

Mr. Redniss: Canvs – looking at the qualitative social analytics. I think any company that's bringing meaning behind metrics. So ignoring volume and actually identifying real meaning behind what people are saying, emotions being shared, and how that maps to brand affinity or brand pillars. Canvs is one of those companies.

Mr. Dumenco: Are you investing in that?

Mr. Redniss: We are investing in that, you can put an asterisk on this. 4C Insights is another company. [Editor's note: Brave is not an investor in 4C Insights.] I think Lance [Neuhauser] and his old product is really interesting; what they are doing with affinity matching between brands and media companies. They are literally identifying who your audience is and who the audiences are on brands and doing the overlay. I think they have something really unique there. There is a company called Umbel, which does something very similar. They are based out of Austin. Another company is NewCoin, which came out of a joint-venture between Univision, Fox Television Stations, and Tribune. NewCoin has been formed to identify a new currency. It is going to include Rentrak data, hopefully it will include Nielsen data, it's going to include social data, digital data, [over-the-top] data and [streaming video-on-demand] data to identify what the currency of their content is and bring that to the market. So I think that is really interesting because that's three major media companies basically saying 'Hey, we are going to help identify what the currency is going to be.'

Ms. Poggi: But how many currencies can we have? Are agencies and clients going to want to trade on multiple currencies?

Mr. Redniss: I completely agree. You have different brands having different [key performance indicators] and putting them against different metrics. When you blend everything together and say, 'What is the real value of social engagement? Well, is that a social engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat? What is going to be the next evolution of the [gross rating point]? I think you are going to find over the next a couple years that the GRP is still going to be the core currency, but I think there is going to be ways that you can tweak it and the GRP can have more meaning.

Every network at the last upfront had talked about the eventizing everything. So you are basically eventizing everything because you want to capture that live rating… But how are you activating somebody from the television screen to this screen (points to smartphone) to get that real engagement to last? That's what they care about. It's not so much about the Twitter buzz, it's how it gets somebody engaged with the real story I want to tell on the mobile device. When you can identify exactly how you bottle that, that's the currency; the fluidity between the screens is the currency. I wonder if anyone is going to crack that. I want to crack that.

Mr. Crupi: The problem is there are not so many progressive agencies. Starcom and SMG, those guys are looking at everything beyond just straight up Nielsen impressions. But these are the same guys that have been using the same data for 70 years and everyone knows it's kind of a shot in the dark, but it is what it is. Agencies are just as much a part of the bigger problem. You still have to kick stuff down the hall to get digital attached. To tell those guys to start thinking outside the box seems like it's going to be hard.

Mr. Redniss: You are taking about the generational tide. And the tide is coming up and you've got this whole generation…who have done it a certain way for such a long time. Do they want to go through and learn the whole new craft and understanding? No way, they do not want to do that. I think we are at flux right now; you've got probably 10 years for that change to happen. But there are progressive agencies: Starcom, Horizon, you've got MediaStorm; you've got even more progressive agencies like Deep FocusMRY360i. Are those are the next-generation major media houses? Probably, because they are looking at all sources of engagement --- everything from digital-placed banners in billboards with mobile information and social location-based data. There are very few people who see the whole picture right now and understand where this is all going to go, but they'll get there. The real question is what currency they are going to trade on. I don't think anybody knows.

Ms. Poggi: How much do we need to pay attention now to measuring sentiment and conversation around a brand or program versus a pure number of how many likes or retweets?

Mr. Redniss: I think that's really powerful, especially when you are talking about the art form of storytelling. People aren't creating art to drive metrics. Quite honestly, when you are talking to all the different showrunners, they aren't saying, 'We are going pop a big number in the demo and we are going to drive X million views on YouTube.' No, they want to tell a great story. So when you can start figuring out how you attach yourself to the audience who cares, like emotionally cares about the story or what this person has to say, that's when you can start figuring out how you pool these people together and then match brands to tell a story correctly versus just going straight for [what] does [this do for] the number of the demo -- we are going to advertise against it whether it matches up the brand pillars or not. It just doesn't make sense.

Ms. Poggi: How does some of this play out in the upfronts?

Mr. Redniss: I think you are going to hear from a lot of networks this year about their new cross-platform targeting capabilities and monetization capabilities. NBC Universal announcing NBCU Synch is a smart play, they are basically again aligning their [data management platform] with their social ability to buy and target brand content. Last year you heard from Viacom with social Ecograph. I think you are going to see some more of that and I think it is really important for the entire industry to understand what it means. I think you are going to see a lot of announcements with major media companies rallying around the new celebrity, finding new talent in new areas and basically saying it's about finding talent that has installed or inherent user base already. So you will be seeing cross-over with a lot of social stars into the television world. It's going to go back to a couple of brands announcing big deals like 'Hey, we are going super deep with X,' or media companies co-funding or co-writing the deal together. Like Honda and "Community." Honda is literally underwriting most of the cost to do that show to pick up the season. I think you are going to see a couple of more of those deals.

Mr. Crupi: It's funny because we were talking about progressive agencies and obviously these are great ideas. But this really goes back to the birth of TV. That's how TV was sold. One sponsor, boom that was it. But it also brings up the question that all of this seems to be leading up to the end of demographics.

Mr. Redniss: It is going to move to psychographics -- understanding how people are engaging with content and what else they do. I think is going to be one of the most powerful things and that's why companies like 4C who can actually help provide those insights and show them in a way that's actionable to the brands and to the media companies is really powerful. I think you will see a couple of companies talking about how they are doing that across the DMP and across ad platforms, but are they really? I am not sure yet. I think you will hear some cool stories.

This interview has been lightly edited.