Least Objectionable Programmatic

(Caution: Mixed Metaphor Alert. There will be more than the normal amount in today’s post, beginning with that headline.)

There are a lot of reasons for mashing up Paul Klein’s universal network television truth with programmatic, but mainly it’s because that’s what I hear other people doing lately. Most of them have been using television metaphors as a way of constraining the programmatic marketplace around something that is most meaningful, most valuable, and potentially, most manageable. Funny enough, they are using the same one Madison Avenue has used ever since its Golden Age to define its highest values and most “premium” content: television.

This morning, for example, TubeMogul released a report entitled “The Programmatic Living Room,” intended to invoke the most sought after consumer behaviors within television’s inherently premium experience: gathered around a screen in our living rooms. Using its own proprietary data, the report reveals some fascinating behaviors across what TubeMogul defines as the three main components of a programmatic living room viewing experience, including one that may not even occur inside a living room: streaming sites and apps. The other two are “programmatic TV” and “connected TV” experiences.

It’s hard to say how representative TubeMogul’s marketplace is of the actual universe of such programming living room behaviors, but the data in the report shows some fascinating patterns -- some which mirror TV and others that definitely do not.

Using shares of ads served as a metric, TubeMogul shows that two facets of the PLR (hey, it wouldn’t be RTBlog if we didn’t throw a new acronym in every now and then), mirror the demand advertisers and agencies have for conventional television: programmatic and connected television. Probably because they are still seen as ways of extending the reach of conventional TV viewing, the greatest demand for ads on those two platforms occurs in prime-time and mid- to end-of-workweek, when the most premium advertisers are looking to influence weekend behaviors. Demand for the third sector -- streaming/apps -- is remarkably different. It spikes in late night and earlier in the week, suggesting the programmatic traders in the pure-play digital marketplace may know something that the traditional TV folks don’t -- or they’re just thinking very differently about consumer reach, experience and behaviors.

Either way, you can delve into the report yourself and take from it what you want. The most important part for me, and the reason I’m leading with it in this set-up is because it is one of the most visceral examples of an industry trend using TV basis for constraining the supply and complexity of a much bigger programmatic marketplace in a way that creates the greatest value for people, especially the ones that happen to buy and sell those things.

The value for people selling a finite supply of high-demand inventory should be self-evident, so I won’t explain why companies like TubeMogul would make this case. For the people who buy it, well, it improves their margins in a number of ways. There are less resources -- both human and machine -- required to buy, traffic and post fewer more expensive pieces of inventory. It’s far less complex and easier for people to understand what they’re getting for what bought (see Mitch Oscar’s 163,866 lines of code ). It makes intuitive sense. Etc. But the most important reason for people on the buy-side to try and constrain the programmatic marketplace around the most valuable sources of inventory is the same thing that the world’s biggest buyers of media have always sought to leverage: leverage.

In an open marketplace of infinite opportunities there is little competitive advantage in being one of the biggest buyers, because the marketplace will always be bigger than you are. Unless you can constrain it in a way where you can leverage your clout, your relationships, your knowledge and insights to create your own separate marketplace. You know, private marketplaces?

Not surprisingly, the agencies with the biggest media-buying leverage have been most aggressive on this front, especially THE biggest, GroupM. It began with Ari Bluman’s campaign to leverage advertiser’s anxieties about non-viewable and non-human traffic to constrain the marketplace into a small subset of GroupM’s preferred partners. It is a brilliant and logic strategy for dealing with an infinite marketplace, and even though I don’t agree with it editorially, I admire that strategy and the way GroupM has leveraged it. Plenty of others have followed suit, and if you had to ask me, I’d have to say I think the tide has swung among big agencies and advertisers away from open marketplace bidding and toward private exchanges. It makes sense. It’s inevitable. But inevitably, I think it will fail, because consumers aren’t just using what agencies, trading desks and publishers deem to be premium content.

I think the smarter traders get that. I count Xaxis’ Brian Lesser among them. Yes, Xaxis wants to constrain the marketplace in ways that give it more leverage over the most premium inventory. And yes, Xaxis is emphasizing video and other “premium” formats in its mix, but it’s also looking at user data to identify where the most valuable audiences are, and it’s acquiring them through both open and private exchanges.

In other words, programmatic’s least objectionable approach isn’t so much about the end-user’s experience, so much as it is the industrial user’s: advertisers, agencies and trading desks. Those industrial users have already identified portions of the programmatic mix -- non-viewable, non-human, brand unsafe, etc., that are clearly objectionable to them. The next phase is using TV-like analogies of inventory and viewing experiences to constrain the marketplace to levels they can think about and manage as premium.

But unlike the 1960s when then NBC programming executive Paul Klein coined the phrase and established the premise, consumers no longer live in a world of scarcity, where they are willing to accept an industry’s definition of least objectionable programming. And only way to understand that isn’t from an advertiser’s, an agency’s or a publisher’s point-of-view. It’s from a consumer’s point-of-view. Whether they are viewing it from their living room or anywhere else.

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