Catching up with an MHEFI Scholarship Recipient Juan Ma, Oklahoma State University

The next time you DVR a television show on CNN, TBS or TNT, think twice about fast-forwarding through the commercials. Instead, watch the ads and appreciate the handiwork of Juan Ma, who is using data analytics to ensure that the right commercials end up in just the right timeslots.

For the past two years, Juan (pronounced “Joo-on”) has been an operations research analyst for Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) Inc. in Atlanta, where she’s charged with helping advertisers reach their target audience.

For example, a company and its advertising firm will come to Turner with a budget in mind and a goal of reaching a certain number of viewers in a core demographic, and Juan and her fellow statisticians will develop an allocation plan that Turner’s sales team can present to the company and advertising firm. The allocation plan is a strategy proposal outlining which programs across Turner’s broad portfolio of cable networks, and at which times of day, the company should advertise to get the most bang for its buck.

“This kind of statistical modeling is used by a lot of industries to achieve optimization, including airlines, carriers such as FedEx and UPS, and hotels, and a lot of my peers have gone into those industries,” Juan said. “But this is a relatively new industry for this concept, so the power of optimization and operations research has not been fully realized in this industry. It’s very challenging and rewarding because we are always doing something that no one has done before.”

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