Programmatic TV: Don't Adopt The Mistakes

“Hello, it’s me” — the opening line from Adele’s monster hit — receives a lot of attention, but it is the start of the third verse when the song arrives.  The lyric “Hello from the other side" flies into your ears and crashes into your soul, reminding you that Adele has no contemporaries.

In the world of media, television is our Adele.  

Print, radio, out-of-home and the Internet collectively don’t come close to the emotional awakenings television ads can stir up.  If you have any doubts about  the emotional impact a well-made television ad can create, then watch the commercial for Johnny Walker produced on spec by a college student, no less.

The ability to deliver sight, sound and motion is the first reason why TV rules the media stage.  The enormous advantage of having less supply for greater demand is the second reason.  The third reason is content.  Consumers don’t binge on Web sites, radio or magazines.  Only television content can cause that.



To their credit, television broadcasters are looking at ways to get even better at selling ads, and programmatic technology has caught their interest.  Here is some advice on how to strategically embrace programmatic without adopting the mistakes that can come with it.

First, remain calm.  

The technology is innovative; the premise is not.

Strip away how it all works, and what you have is targeting.  Programmatic allows for data to create specific target audience segments for sale. Carving up your premium inventory (aka prime time) that has a high sell-through rate into audience segments for sale is a bad idea. It would work if an advertiser buys the whole spot and copy splits creative based on these segments, but no advertiser is putting forth that effort.  So keep selling your prime content as a take-it-all-or-leave-it option and offer programmatic targeting to help increase the value of the inventory in less desirable time slots and content.

Second, charge more, not less.

This is the biggest mistake most digital properties have been forced to make.  Because there is a lack of “prime” content to lean on, targeting has become Internet advertising’s lead value proposition. Too much supply and so much data has created the unusual scenario where advertisers pay less for targeted impressions online, then they pay for impressions sold directly that are contextually targeted.

Charging less for greater targeting will never make sense, but I sense broadcasters won’t be backed into that mistake.  The pressure from buyers and the tech stack driving programmatic will try to convince you otherwise -- but stand your ground the way Hulu’s Peter Naylor has, and charge a premium for programmatic inventory, not a discount.

Third, don’t let anyone else sell your shit.

Whenever your ad sales business touches the digital tech stack, you run the risk of your inventory getting bought around you.  Ad networks were the first to knife the value of Internet advertising in this way, and it’s happening again in more covert forms with programmatic.

Whether it’s your data or your ad spots, don't engage in any partnership that could result in anyone else selling your product.  Be leery of “private marketplaces” that do not return the inventory you send their way for an advertiser to sift through and cherry-pick.  Whatever is left in the basket has to come back to you versus pushing out to an “open exchange,” or you will suffer price erosion.  That’s because buyers will always buy your ads without you, when these ads are cheaper from someone else -- and that’s what always happens when other people sell your shit.

Programmatic is great technology -- but if tied to bad business practices, it will leave you singing the ad-sales blues.

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