For Programmatic TV Buying, Small Can Be An Advantage

The migration of programmatic technologies to TV buying is nascent, at best. Surely the technology, available inventory, and buyer understanding are limited. But sometime old habits, especially in TV buying, can get in the way of healthy experimentation. At this week’s MediaPost Programmatic and RTB Insider Summit, one of our final panels -- featuring executives from ESPN, Magna Global, Targeted Victory and AOL -- discussed the state of programmatic TV. 

The panel's moderator -- Patrick Murphy, director of medias services at the small shop Off Madison Ave -- may have had one of the most telling direct experiences with the emerging platforms. Murphy is part of a 50-person integrated services shop whose media department numbers only five, including himself. In fact the teams are so small that the agency does not have a separate programmatic team. That discipline is simply part of  the digital team, which itself is integrated with traditional media and search. It is this integrated infrastructure that lets the company experiment with emerging platforms and gauge their impact faster than most.



Off Madison Ave had been responsible for the digital campaigns of a tourist board for the past five years when the company won over its traditional budget from an agency that held those budgets for the past 21 years. Now the agency could look at the entire media mix.

In the first year, 2013, it did a direct TV buy with two Scripps networks, which included a 30-minute program with the Travel Channel. But this didn't achieve such KPIs as driving site visits and visitor guide requests. Moreover, “while this was a national client, their budget levels were not at a threshold where the networks paid much attention and were willing to bring more value to the table,” Murphy said.

Enter programmatic TV buying. For the following year’s campaign, the agency was looking for alternative ways of tackling traditional media and settled on PlaceMedia’s programmatic platform. Buying direct with TV networks only allowed the budget to stretch one or two networks deep. Using digital data allowed the client to more precisely locate their target audience, segments like outdoor adventure and travelers. “We were looking for people who traveled three or more times domestically a year, and we found this gave us a real opportunity to talk not just to demographics but to people,” Murphy said. Rentrak set-top data helped to find audiences down to household income levels, and third-party data was used elsewhere to further refine targets.

Murphy said that the media team was already routinely writing personae profiles that the research was trying to use. “For the first time [the platform] matched our own methodology of planning and buying,,” he says. “It excited us to talk to real people.”

By targeting digitally and buying programmatically across a much wider range of properties, the 2014 campaign was able to use the same budget level to achieve much better results. “We were able to get double the number of impressions and reduce the CPM,” Murphy said.  “We saw a really big lift in overall traffic, and then sustained levels of users throughout the campaign months,” he says. Information requests, a KPI, also rose noticeably.

The programmatic approach not only made the client budget go wider, but it put the spots into places it had not seen before. “The inventory integration is fairly new and not completely proliferated to every cable provider,” Murphy added. “But it still hit the top 20 DMAs and also gave us a deeper buy in terms of networks we could actually buy." One unexpected benefit was getting more spots than expected into prime time than they could have afforded with their network level buying.

Murphy was especially enthusiastic about the ways in which these targeting and buying techniques are bringing offline and online into parity. “By applying the data from the digital piece, for the first time we were aligning in some cases the same data we were using online to TV to talk to these audiences across screens.”

He believes that there are advantages to being a smaller shop when it comes to experimenting with these emerging opportunities. “We don’t have the same frustrations I hear from the larger agencies who say they need to jump through so many hoops to get things done.”

Many opportunities like programmatic TV pull together, data, research, planning and buying disciplines that continue to be siloed at bigger agencies and so require approvals and interdepartmental approvals to get the agency onto the new space.  “I would argue why can’t you be there, especially when you have platforms that let you manage it all yourselves,” Murphy said.

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