With the upfronts heading into full swing, many are wondering how far we are from a time when marketers and agencies can execute agnostically across the Web and TV. One study offers a nice window into the question -- and a way to realize that we’re thinking about the issue all wrong.
At the most recent IAB Leadership Meeting, Nielsen, in partnership with the IAB, released a study showing that TV ads perform better when coupled with digital video advertising. The specific takeaway: If advertisers take 15% of their TV budgets and reallocate it online, they’ll be able to increase reach by up to 6%. The study is part of a long tradition of studies showing that two channels are better than one -- with obvious implications for marketers, digital publishers, and media companies looking to spread inventory across multiple outlets.
It’s a great piece of advertising research. But when you think it through from an execution standpoint, things start to break down. Which shows the huge hurdles we still face in TV/digital convergence.
Why? Because once you decide to push that 15% of TV budget over to digital, somebody needs to wade through the details of which inventory gets bought. The only people suited to the task are the TV buyers (who understand the overarching goals of the TV campaign), or the TV buyers working hand-in-hand with digital teams.
But getting TV buyers to handle digital tasks -- or vice-versa --is harder than it sounds. That’s because TV and digital buying are hugely different on the backend. TV buying is surprisingly well-automated and standardized when it comes to operational issues like RFPs, invoices, billing, negotiation, make-goods, and metrics (it’s had a half-century to work out the kinks).
Digital buying, which is still in its relative infancy, is notoriously backward and rife with inefficiency. Not to mention that TV and digital buyers are purchasing fundamentally different units. In TV, you’re buying a small number of units that deliver large audiences (say, a single prime time spot); online, you’re buying a limitless number of one-off engagements as users go to a web page at their convenience. Which sounds like a technicality, but it means that the metrics for the two tell different stories, and it’s a hurdle to make them apples-to-apples.
Those differences in workflow, tech infrastructure, and measurement mean that it’s surprisingly hard to make truly channel-agnostic buying a reality. That’s not just conjecture. At Mediaocean, we spent months interviewing hundreds of agency and technology executives to understand why TV buyers aren’t spending more on online video -- especially on the well-visited sites that were extremely similar to TV stations, like Hulu or the biggest YouTube channels. A lot of the answer, we learned, boiled down to the workflow issues I’ve outlined above. TV buyers need to look at the efficiency loss they’d face if they wanted to buy more online, and they often decide that going too deep online just isn’t a wise way to spend their clients’ money.
Even if the digital teams are the group that would handle the 15% spend that gets pushed from TV, you still can’t make the most of a campaign that’s 85% TV if you don’t get the TV buyers involved on some level. And given today’s infrastructure for digital buys, that, again, is very hard to do.
Which leaves a real challenge to the workflow tech, data management, and publisher communities: to develop standards and a common currency to let the agencies really manage across any inventory they like.
Once we can get that done, marketing will finally be able to unlock the value of digital and TV. Marketers will be able to freely buy the inventory that fits them best, digital publishers will get the share of budget that genuinely reflects the value they offer, and traditional media companies will have the freedom to take their existing relationships into new channels.
All this will be a tremendous win for the marketing ecosystem. But until we get that common currency, workflow issues will keep the dream from becoming a reality -- and great thinking like the study from Nielsen will just be research.