Let's Call it 'Ad Network TV' for Now

Talk about Programmatic TV has been exploding since it first emerged in 2014, not surprising since it boasts one of media’s favorite buzz words. While much headway has been made in the TV space since the concept was first introduced, there’s still one major problem—it isn’t Programmatic yet.

If we are making parallels to digital, traditional TV operates a lot like “site-direct buying.” Buyers go to each of the inventory owners individually, negotiate fixed pricing with added value, and are guaranteed to run what they book. This is great for sellers, as they maintain full control of the inventory and pricing. But with the proliferation of content providers, and the increased targeting capabilities available in digital, advertisers and agencies are thirsting for a way to make TV more efficient and more targeted. 

Digital went through this same mid-life crisis in the mid-90s, which led to the birth of Ad Networks. They allowed advertisers to buy digital ads across the sites their target was most likely to visit, through one single insertion order. Programmatic TV (PTV) is essentially just that. Providers serve as a one-stop-shop, running ads across the networks, dayparts, and programs that over-index against a target. While this solution is more efficient for advertisers and agencies, it is still missing many key elements that make programmatic what it is.



 Pricing/ Transparency

PTV is still priced on a flat, blended CPM, with little transparency into media cost and vendor fees. For fear of de-valuing their inventory, many Broadcasters and Cable Providers have forbid PTV vendors from sharing spend by program, network, or DMA. The market needs transparency and dynamic pricing to truly unlock the potential of Programmatic. It’s a big plunge for Broadcasters—but one that needs to be taken.


Programmatic digital buying allows advertisers to identify and reach their target 1:1 using 1st and 3rd party data. Currently the only way to replicate this on linear television is through Addressable TV—or showing ads only to target households by inserting them into the individual cable box. This option is sold through each MSO separately, making it neither efficient nor scalable. Programmatic TV, alternately, only offers the ability to use audience tools to find the networks, programs, and dayparts that over-index, and place buys that align with that. This isn’t new, and is how traditional TV has been planned for years.

Just last week MediaPost reported AT&T launching their new “Programmatic” Private Marketplace, but indicated that Addressable TV will remain a separate offering. In order for TV to become truly programmatic, vendors need to merge their automated TV buying solutions with the 1:1 targeting of Addressable.

While some broadcasters are starting to push national inventory into the PTV space (like NBCU announced last month), almost all buys are comprised of remnant local inventory stitched together for ‘national’ coverage (Unwired Network, anyone?). This means that ads aren’t shown evenly across the US—a big problem for national advertisers with reach/ frequency goals. Additionally, PTV cannot be bought on a DMA basis, taking it off the table entirely for local advertisers.

Automation/ Control

At current state, PTV still requires traditional RFPs, planning negotiations, and insertion orders. This results in hours of superfluous calls, emails, and paperwork—something Programmatic was designed to eliminate. 

Programmatic digital buying also gives agencies and advertisers the reigns to execute the buys, controlling the DSP levers themselves. A self-serve model has yet to come to market for TV, leaving advertisers beholden to a “black box” that was so notorious of ad networks. 

Reporting + Optimizing

Perhaps the most important benefit of programmatic buying is the ability to track performance and optimize in real-time. Right now, TV reporting still consists only of impressions/ GRPs delivered, and is largely modeled off of a panel. Without being able to measure consumer behavior, there is no way to optimize towards networks, programs, or dayparts that are performing. 

Major advancements have been made in the TV industry over the past two years. The infrastructure is finally being laid to allow for more advanced buying in the TV space, but it hasn’t earned the “P” word just yet.

2 comments about "Let's Call it 'Ad Network TV' for Now".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 10, 2016 at 7:41 a.m.

    Actually, the way "PTV" is developing is directionally, more towards local market national advertiser spot TV buys but much less so fordollars placed on the national networks, syndicators and basic cable channels. On the local front most of the programs that national advertisers buy time in are either older skewed local newscasts and syndicated Prime Access shows or younger skewed off-network sitcoms---also syndicated. The targeting aspect isn't a major factor as most of these program genres reach the same kinds of people---either older or younger and, in most cases, with a downscale HH income skew. Also, most national spot buys are GRP tonnage-driven, using tailored spot GRPs as add-ons to larger national TV buys which deliver umbrella reach levels. So reach is not a major issue, they are merely adding frequency. Accordingly, the main driver of PTV where national spot is concerned is the agencies' desire to automate the huge negotiating and paperwork that spot buying and servicing entails.

    When it comes to national TV network, syndication and basic cable buys the situation is very different. Here, the sellers generally rule, not the buyers, and the negotiations, including many viewer engagement, cancellation options, and other machinations, are far more sophisticated and are not purely a function of reaching the most targeted eyeballs for the lowest cost. As has been pointed out many times, most ad sellers---NBC included---are not even considering placing their entire array of day, early news, prime, late night or sports fare up for grabs, with the PTV computers free to cherrypick whatever shows they please---telecast by telecast----and demand that these audiences be guaranteed. The ad sellers believe--and rightly so, that they must retain control over their packaging and bundling of programs so they can auction off 99% of their GRPs and get the best ad revenue yield for their entire schedules. Until PTV finds a way to satisfy this need---or the TV ad sellers are so totally crushed that they cave in and march obiediently to the PTV drummer's beat----PTV will be mostly a marginal inventory, "long tail" channel buying tool, whose main value will be to save people time and handle paperwork, not the godsend for advertisers that some suppose.

    The way around this impass is for PTV orchestrators to take the trouble to find out how TV ad sales as well as time buying is done---and why this is the case---then to work out the required compromises and adaptations so both buyer and seller are comfortable. So far, most of the talk seems to be about converting TV  thinking to digital thinking by "educating" the legacy media laggards. A far better approach would tailor--and, yes, reconfigure-----PTV so it works for TV as well as for digital.

  2. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, March 10, 2016 at noon

    ED why would looking forward require "to take the trouble to find out how TV ad sales as well as time buying is done" when TV is not accountable for Attribution????

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