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How Fox's Partnership With TransUnion Is Ultimately a Win For ... Comcast?

By James Brumley – Apr 28, 2020 at 7:28AM

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The agreement between these two strange bedfellows highlights the importance of a carefully crafted data gathering and advertising platform.

It would be easy to breeze right past the headline and not give it a second thought, chalking the announcement up to mere formality. Fox Corp. (FOX -1.41%) (FOXA -1.25%) needs detailed information about its TV viewers so it can better target television commercials with its streaming service Tubi, and TransUnion (TRU -0.77%) can supply it. Why not work together?

Give the news a closer, second look though, and one may start to wonder exactly why -- or even how -- a credit reporting bureau is working with a media giant, providing sensitive information that should arguably be kept confidential. Besides, how would TransUnion even know about your viewing or shopping preferences?

There's the rub. This is a partnership that should gnaw at consumers. It should also concern regulators and lawmakers. Even media names may want to think twice before plugging into the same idea. Fortunately, it's not a prospective moral hazard that rival television name Comcast (CMCSA -1.94%) even has to consider. It's already figured out how to gather and utilize consumer data for its TV platforms.

Bright, splashy word art version of the word 'winner.'

Image source: Getty Images.

What they said

The press release was posted in mid-April, though likely lost in a sea of coronavirus-related headlines. The two companies co-announced:

The partnership enables Tubi to deliver curated content and viewer experiences by establishing a more enriched view of individuals and households. This unique picture of the connected consumer is created by combining Tubi's deep understanding of content viewing behaviors with TransUnion's robust data assets, rooted in their cross-verified consumer database. As a result, advertisers can more seamlessly bridge the gap between individual and household, and deliver a more personalized ad experience alongside the content.

Translation: If you're watching Tubi video content, TransUnion is telling Fox other details about your life, including information about your family.

It's only half as alarming as it may seem to be on the surface. Advertisers can already make some pretty reasonable assumptions about you just based on the programs you're watching, and you can bet that streaming platforms like Amazon are connecting the dots to your Amazon.com purchase history. Your internet service provider pretty much knows every website you visit too. But, all of those are more or less expected. Consumers have given up on even trying to remain entirely anonymous.

Bringing a credit bureau into the mix, however, is a new and uncomfortable spin on an old idea. What information is stored in a "cross-verified consumer database?" Incomes? Credit scores? Job history? Social security numbers? Perhaps more important, what measures are being taken to ensure security of personal information when it's being passed to and from Fox?

Enter Comcast's One Platform

While Comcast has always worked to give its advertisers the best and most meaningful data possible, it's stepped up the development of its capabilities of late to create a unified offering called One Platform that allows advertisers to most effectively purchase air time.

As the name suggests, the One Platform "gives marketers the power to reach all audiences everywhere they are across the full NBCUniversal ecosystem, and enables every impression to be data-informed."

That "data-informed" detail is the key. While Comcast doesn't say exactly what its NBCUniversal unit knows about viewers, presumably it's information decidedly useful to advertisers. One Platform is a data gathering and measurement tool as well, however, with the February revelation of the platform explaining "NBCUniversal will be expanding CFlight cross-platform impression measurement to include OTT co-viewing, out-of-home measurement (OOH) as well as short-form video."

OTT means over-the-top television, and in this instance primarily refers to the company's upcoming streaming service called Peacock slated for full commercial launch in July. That's an important detail too. One Platform lets advertisers run campaigns that utilize all of NBCUniversal's media vehicles, and measure the collective response.

Perhaps most important of all, Comcast didn't have to tap a credit bureau to give its advertisers valuable information about its customers. Comcast already has enough of what it needs, and it doesn't need to take a chance on a partnership that's questionable at best and risky at worst.

What next?

Curiously, privacy hawks haven't made much of a fuss about TransUnion's agreement with Fox's Tubi, although it's possible they've also been hampered by fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak. It's also possible that neither Tubi nor Fox are high enough in profile to draw the attention of potential critics.

This is still no small matter though. Should the partnership find its way into the spotlight -- or worse, somehow cause a data breach -- don't be surprised to see public pushback. Not wanting to cause any more ire, Comcast is well-positioned to win any displaced advertising dollars. Consumers are kind of funny about doing business with companies that fail to protect their personal data.

In a much broader sense, however, the TransUnion/Tubi agreement underscores just how important consumer data will be as we move into the streaming era. It also illustrates just how difficult it is to gather and analyze that data. In this regard, there's nothing else out there quite like One Platform.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. James Brumley has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and recommends the following options: short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon and long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Fox Corporation
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