How can media buyers begin to assess the large and growing number of ever-evolving programmatic TV platforms in the marketplace?
Two executives from L.A.-based agency Quigley-Simpson, who report that they’ve vetted “dozens” of PTV platforms in the past two years, offered their own checklist of critical platform capabilities during MediaPost’s recent TV Insider Summit.
Here’s their checklist, followed by a couple of case studies and some of their observations about PTV’s evolution.
Platform Criteria Checklist
1. Full automation: “The platform should connect the sell and demand sides in near real time,” said Carlos Ramirez, group director, cross-screen engagement for Quigley-Simpson.
“That means transactions that are enabled by technology,” he said. “We’re not simply looking to outsource buying to another buying team; we already have great people who do that. A lot of platforms have dashboards that enable entering buys and pulling reporting, and that’s great. But in many cases, when they hit ‘send’ on that buy, there’s another team that’s going to do the negotiating and buying, and it’s going to take two weeks to implement that. That’s not what we’re looking for — and that’s not what a lot of agencies are looking for.”
2. Access to linear TV inventory: “We think that OTT and CTV and streaming video are great — there’s definitely a place for those kinds of inventory in any media strategy that includes TV and video,” Ramirez noted. “But in PTV, linear TV is the tough nut to crack, and that’s what we’re trying to solve for with platforms.” The linear inventory can be national or local, and through broadcast or cable networks or syndication, he said.
3. A true open exchange, with direct access to inventory: Ideally, “the platform should connect advertisers with networks through technology, with no intermediary and no pre-set spending commitments or pre-negotiated buy structure required,” Ramirez said. Ultimately, the goal of PTV is “to try to recreate what’s already being done on the digital side, where you can set specific criteria, either as the buyer or seller, and an algorithm matches the inventory with the buyer’s needs,” he pointed out.
The growing number of proprietary, walled-garden network PTV solutions, which “essentially layer advanced targeting onto their own inventory sets,” are great for the networks, but limit what advertisers can achieve with programmatic, he added. “I think that the true nature of programmatic is media- or inventory-agnostic audience targeting, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve with PTV.”
4. Advanced targeting capabilities: The ability to go beyond age and gender demographic breakouts, with the option of layering on first- and third-party data targeting, is what enables programmatic to become more than a transactional tool for advertisers, Ramirez summed up.
5. Blacklisting/whitelisting functionality: “Most of our clients absolutely demand the ability to block out any content that they feel is not brand safe, or may be offensive or controversial,” he stressed. Being able to get down to the program level so as to be as “surgical” as possible in blocking is the preference, but the “bare minimum” is the ability to block networks with “large content components that don’t meet a brand’s guidelines,” he said.
On the flip side, bid-boosting capabilities that can “increase the likelihood that you’re going to get clearance on high-demand content or dayparts that are very important for the brand’s strategy is also a great feature to look for,” he noted.
6. Third party-verified posting: “‘Trust but verify’ is obviously very critical,” Ramirez said. “Our clients look to us for the highest level of assurance, meaning that either Nielsen or Rentrak is posting the audience data.”
7. Complete schedule and cost transparency: “We look for reporting that includes media schedule detail down to the DMA, network, daypart, date and time,” he said. “We also want to know what we’re paying for those media at the spot level, and where the tech fees are, so that we have sufficient information to truly evaluate the value of buying programmatically versus traditional buying means.”
8. Self-service capability: “We prefer a self-service platform that allows us to get a hands-on view into the inventory the platform is able to access, the technology, the different use cases we’re able to establish, and all of the limitations and challenges, as well as opportunities, enabled by a platform,” Ramirez reported. This enables the agency to provide clients with in-depth information about the capabilities, as well as its viewpoints on where the greatest opportunities lie.
He acknowledged, however, that the staff and resources to learn and use new self-service platforms can make this option impractical for some agencies.
No Such Thing As Perfect
Ramirez also emphasized that Quigley-Simpson prioritizes the eight criteria — and that whereas automation is a top priority, self-service is on the bottom. “The others are somewhat negotiable,” he added.
Overall, he said that to his knowledge, none of the platforms has “100%” perfected delivery on any of these criteria, “though some are more proficient on one or several than others.”
Responding to a question, he said that the agency does see differences in platform offerings based on whether they have digital or linear heritages, with each having its own inherent challenges and strengths.
“The ones with linear heritage have a bit of an advantage in terms of getting the infrastructure set up to do linear TV at scale, which is very difficult to accomplish — it’s much more difficult to turn on and off quickly than it is with digital,” he said. Linear’s challenges include trying to incorporate more digital inventory and currency “to get a complete TV view and an offering that includes OTT, CTV and streaming video on desktop and mobile.”
On the digital side, getting plugged into the TV marketplace, especially at scale, is still a struggle. “Getting a few spots here and there is one thing, but getting the inventory to clear on premium networks and dayparts is the challenge,” he said.
Ramirez also stressed that, given the rapid changes in platforms, it’s critical to get updates on them on an ongoing basis, and to meet with those at the forefront of technology every few months.
PTV in Action
Michael Berg, associate director, cross-screen engagement for Quigley-Simpson, offered two case studies demonstrating that PTV’s benefits include “not just automation, but the ability to optimize quickly based on the data you’re getting and what the market is saying.”
The core audience for one client brand, allergy sufferers, are most receptive to the product’s messages when their symptoms are worst — and high pollen counts tend to be the trigger, Berg said. However, pollen counts within affected regions and DMAs across the country shift rapidly, and the brand wanted a more precise and strategic approach for reaching these consumers at the right time.
PTV technology, pollen-count heat mapping and market-level trends data enabled the team to apply IMS Health data to dynamically target prospects within DMAs experiencing high pollen counts at any given time. The IMS data were updated weekly, and the buy was optimized accordingly throughout the campaign.
“We were constantly planning and re-planning our buys,” Berg reported. “We were able to increase inventory in those areas with high counts, and pull back on inventory in those with low counts.”
Another client, whose core target is men 18 to 34 — a tough audience to reach through traditional linear TV — wanted to identify trends that could be used to better target these consumers via linear.
This demographic has a strong presence on, and high engagement with, social media. But traditional TV’s lead times can make it difficult for it to keep up with constantly shifting social media trends.
The team’s solution was to employ Nielsen Social’s affinity tool to monitor social conversation around specific users tweeting around specific brands, while simultaneously monitoring their social conversations about specific TV programming. “Knowing that those who were tweeting about ‘Brand X’ were also tweeting about certain TV programs enabled us to target these consumers more precisely,” confirmed Berg.
The Nielsen Social data was also refreshed on a weekly basis, enabling optimization against the highest-indexing programming based on the latest data.
Assessing PTV’s Status
Asked whether pricing or inventory limitations are the biggest challenge for PTV at present, Berg said that to his mind, it’s a toss-up.
“I’d say it’s a combination of both concerns,” he said. “Pricing’s not comparable to pricing in traditional. And while the platform we’ve been working with has local inventory and is trying to get more national on there, it’s a slow-moving process.”
“We don’t think that PTV is going to overhaul the industry anytime soon,” Ramirez said when asked about how traditional buyers are responding to PTV. “I doubt that we’ll ever see upfronts be conducted through a platform. But now that we’ve used it for a little over two years, we definitely understand where the capabilities and opportunities are for the near term.”
The growing body of knowledge and benefits evidence, including PTV’s efficiency for some buys, “has gone a long way toward convincing traditional buyers in the agency,” he said. “Over time, we’ve been able to loop them into the conversation and the process of using PTV for specific-use cases.”
The optimal buying method depends on the objectives of the campaign, Ramirez said. With national inventory, traditional buyers may well be able to leverage business relationships and negotiate more aggressively. “But on the local side, I think that they understand how much work and time it takes to [use traditional methods] to buy against, say, 50 markets,” he noted. “In programmatic, we can do set up the buys in a half-hour—and get really strategic with the targeting while we’re doing it.”
In short, “even some of the most skeptical buyers have come around to understanding that while PTV is far from being a perfect solution, there’s a balance between what PTV can do and what they can do,” Ramirez summed up.
A form of programmatic TV has been in discussion since before 2000, but the vendors fought it tooth and nail. Sales reps were afraid that their stations and/or networks would not do as well by eliminating the personal interaction between buyer and seller.
Sales vendors even fought letting buyers upload avails for programming and rates which was a major time saver when DDS (now Mediaocean) implemented it. The only electronic element the suppliers were OK with was electronic invoicing.
Spot buys were always very labor intensive. If you go back further, sales reps were not even allowed to fax over avails. They had to deliver them in person because their management wanted them to form a relationship with a buyer in order to get a bigger share.
To Virginia's point, Arbitron, under Pete Langhoff, tried to launch a computerized spot TV buying system in the late 1960s, I believe, whereby avails and prices would be computerized and merged with Arbitron's local market TV ratings to facilitate the buying. It was not automated buying, itself, but a forerunner of programmatic to some extent in that the sales reps would have to disclose their rates for comparative purposes, before the negotiation process began. Needless to say, the stations as well as many buyers were opposed----the former because they wanted to keep their pricing flexible and not open for all to see on all buys; the latter, because they saw no need for such a cumbersome operation that required them to look at every station's offerings, rather then just those they preferred to give business to in each daypart.