Many Flavors of Programmatic TV: One Size Doesn't Fit All

We all can agree that the major topic at Advertising Week this year was programmatic, which has truly hit its stride and is exceeding all expectations for adoption. But to be clear, the buzz was about digital programmatic, not about programmatic TV.  Programmatic TV is still in early innings. However, the week marked a major inflection point for TV. Let me count the ways.

First, the TV industry has observed that there are many flavors of programmatic that have come to shape digital. Programmatic is not a one-size-fits- all offering. Second, it is now recognized with programmatic that business models lead and tech and automation follow. Third, as a result, many of the large cable TV network groups are recognizing the value of programmatic TV and have shifted their thinking from an “if” to a “how” and “when” mindset.

Programmatic TV is the union of audience data and tech automation. It differs starkly from digital in that it doesn’t include real-time bidding or auctions. But it adopts many of the benefits of programmatic digital:  targeting with audience data, daily reporting/optimization and precision delivery through advanced TV ad tech. Like digital, programmatic TV will develop many flavors as it matures. Eric Picard, CEO of Rare Crowds, recently laid out a synthesis of the multiple sales and programmatic channels that publishers have developed now that digital programmatic has achieved critical mass:

  • Direct relationship: old-fashioned sales.
  • Programmatic direct: publisher-packaged inventory offered over API or through a self-service tool.
  • Private exchange: DSP buyers can buy inventory with a “first look” ahead of getting passed to the open exchange – and possibly ahead of other partner relationships.
  • Vertical network: direct relationship with a vertical network that either buys direct or through a private exchange.
  • SSP: some publishers have a partnership with an SSP that divvies up inventory between ad networks and various ad exchanges.
  • Open exchange: some publishers skip the SSP and remnant wholesale deals to old-school ad networks, dropping it directly into the exchange.



These channels differ largely as different business models or different relationships between the publisher and the agency or advertiser. But the ad technology that supports them is the same.  In digital, publishers have now tailored a common ad tech stack to support the business model(s) that work for them.

The business model as the defining construct of programmatic is even more important in TV because of the scarcity of supply. Historically, the largest challenge to programmatic TV has been its adoption by TV sellers. TV watched how digital, in its early days, adopted technology without enough respect for the business model. This early recklessness harmed the digital ecosystem for publishers and reduced quality of inventory for agencies and advertisers that still lingers in digital today.

But Picard’s programmatic channels provide a playbook of sorts for programmatic TV. The names and the definitions will likely differ for TV, but the notion that many flavors of programmatic TV will come to life will be the same.

As the head of research at a major cable network group remarked last week on applying audience data and automation for TV, “We must do this. We are doing this.”

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