It’s time to rethink how we use the word “digital,” and how it relates to the ways we plan, buy, and yes, even programmatically trade, media. Let me begin by asking you a simple question: When I say the word “digital,” what media come to mind? Most likely, it’s online, and associated platforms like social and mobile. Or maybe it’s formats like display, video, or apps. But do you also think about other media, including television, magazines, newspapers or even out-of-home? Maybe not, but you definitely should be, because they are increasingly -- or in the case of television, mostly -- digital.
I’ve been aware of this semantic digital divide for some time, but it really struck me last week when I referred to all media being “essentially digital” in a Q&A with new 4As digital and innovation chief Donnovan Andrews. Andrews didn’t blink and just answered the question, but some readers seemed surprised, and one veteran whom I consider to be particularly media savvy was aghast. The problem was that they were thinking of “digital” as being synonymous with “online.” It’s not. TV, for example, is virtually all digital now, including all terrestrial and satellite signals, and most cable distribution.
The problem is entirely semantics, and the fact that so-called digital natives use the term to refer exclusively to their native medium, not because of the digital nature of the media themselves.
Earlier this month, for example, I received a new report from the digital statmasters at eMarketer showing that daily time spent with digital media will surpass TV viewing for the first time this year. That’s a dubious milestone, if you ask me, because TV is a digital medium. It has been 100% digital since it was mandates four years ago by the Federal Communications Commission, yet people in the digital industry don’t think about it that way.
While other “traditional” media, including newspapers, magazines, radio and out-of-home, aren’t as digitally penetrated as TV are yet, they’re increasingly so. In fact, many major magazines have scrapped or subordinated their print editions long ago, and I think some major newspapers will soon. It’s inevitable, because it’s just semantics. It’s about distribution platforms, not the content the mediums represent, per se.
So why am I so worked up about this now, and why am I posting it in RTBlog? Because I think those same semantics are leading us to obfuscate the role that programmatic trading is playing with other media. By just focusing on online display, and maybe mobile and social, we’re ignoring the seachange that is manifesting with consumers, as well as important sectors of the industry that are seeking to reach them. I was struck by this point last week when two things occurred. One was a statement by a top Interpublic executive -- Magna Executive Vice President Todd Gordon -- that all media would be traded programmatically within three years. The second point was Nielsen’s release of first-quarter ad spending trends. Nielsen, and the other major ad trackers, don’t report the growth of programmatic trading, because none of them track it -- even though it is one of the fastest growing sectors of the media economy.
Actually, the only source I know that has been tracking it systematically is Interpublic’s Magna unit, and according to its last report released early this year, programmatic is the second fastest form of ad spending, just behind mobile advertising. According to Magna’s most recent estimates, programmatic trading will growth about 40% this year, representing nearly a quarter of all online display ad spending. By 2017, Magna projects programmatic will represents 43% of the online display ad marketplace. Magna has not released projections for the programmatic trading of other media, but if it is serious in its plans to automate all media buying by then, well then you can figure out the share yourself. Meanwhile, stay tuned for developments impacting the way the other digital media -- you know, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and out-of-home -- begin trading programmatically.