Commentary

Probing Agency Concerns About Advanced TV Offerings

For media agencies, the major TV networks’ audience-based targeting offerings represent critical new opportunities to deliver value to clients. But as always, big change also comes with complications, unknowns and fear of missteps.

During February and March, Clarion Research conducted in-depth, in-person interviews with senior-level executives at 15 media agencies about their perceptions of the challenges associated with these programs, and what would help accelerate adoption of such buys.

The interviews were with senior agency executives involved in media strategy and negotiations — most in mid-size to large agencies (including some at the holding company level), reports Jamie Stenziano, SVP in Clarion’s media and entertainment insights group, which specializes in custom studies for media brands and their partners.

The group conducted this research, designed to shed light on how networks can optimize their advanced TV programs and best position them to agencies, for presentation at the latest meeting of the “Secret Society,” led by U.S. International Media advanced television strategist Mitch Oscar.

Here’s a summary of the findings and recommendations for networks.

Agencies’ Key Concerns
Perceived challenges and themes expressed by the agency executives, in no particular order of importance, include:

Integration with existing systems and data  Given that agencies have developed their own internal data stacks and also license third-party data sources for audience segmentation and targeting, what do advanced media platforms bring to the table?

“Media companies must identify where data gaps exist, and prove that their platforms offer deeper, more robust targeting than existing systems at the agencies,” sums up Stenziano.

At least at this stage, operational issues are also a real concern. How will the data sets from agencies, media companies and, possibly, clients — data sets that may well have varying segment parameters and definitions — be aligned, matched and quality controlled? Agencies need to be able to assure clients on this front.

Client concerns about sharing data  Marketers are, appropriately, cautious about sharing their proprietary consumer and brand data. That’s true even within trusted agency relationships — and agency executives confirmed that clients will want strong assurances in order to feel comfortable with the prospect of their first-party data being employed by media company platforms that are two degrees removed. They also indicated that clients’ comfort level with this prospect varies, with the closeness of the agency/client relationship being a key factor.

Need for more in-depth understanding and differentiation of platforms  Most agency executives are not yet familiar with the inner workings of advanced TV platforms from networks. That’s not surprising, given that such platforms are still young and evolving, and that there are a growing number of options — but it contributes to uneasiness.

"Media company executives have understanding borne of being involved in the development of these platforms, but many agency executives aren’t involved on a day-to-day basis with these platforms,” notes Stenziano. “Agencies are looking to understand the engineering ‘under the hood.’”

In addition, agency executives acknowledged that it has become difficult for them to keep track of the differences among the growing number of platforms and data sets — that the value propositions are blending together.

Transparency issues, on several levels  Agency executives also acknowledge perceptions or concerns that advanced TV platforms are self-serving, given that networks and network groups are looking to charge premiums for the capabilities.

Some question the objectivity of these platforms. The closed-source or walled-garden nature of the platforms is also a source of concern, both from a functional/effectiveness standpoint, and a transparency standpoint.

Risks in being an early adopter  While many agencies are eager to provide added value and differentiate themselves by being leaders in the advanced television realm, they also need a certain level of confidence before they will recommend such programs to clients.

To overcome hesitancy, an agency needs sufficient transparency on the platform, process and accountability measures, as well as evidence that the investment is likely to produce tangible returns.

“Agencies not only want use cases; they want success stories within their clients’ specific categories,” stresses Stenziano.

Positioning Advanced TV Platforms
Based on agency executives’ input about how networks can add value to their advanced platform propositions, Clarion recommends that networks consider several key points in developing or evolving their positioning strategies for platforms:

Enter conversations earlier.  Agency executives said that as media strategies become ever more holistic and cross-platform, media companies can add value by coming to the table early in the planning process. That can position them as strategic partners, rather than just tactical resources.

Lay your cards on the table.  Networks need to overcome the transparency concerns noted above. Agencies are also calling for advanced TV platforms that are more open-source in nature, similar to the open markets in the digital space. Quite a few of the executives interviewed noted that the new cross-publisher OpenAP platform being launched by Viacom, Turner and Fox Networks Group seems to be a first step in this direction, reports Stenziano.

Differentiate by helping agencies get beneath the surface, and by providing relevant, credible use cases and metrics.  Finding ways to convey platforms’ unique value propositions is critical for networks and network groups.

As noted, agencies want to understand how platforms and processes work. Networks can establish credibility and trust by being willing to go beyond surface, conceptual information. They can also differentiate by proactively serving as educators for agencies about advanced TV dynamics.

Again, Clarion’s research underlines the importance of providing category-relevant, real-world successes, including case studies, ROI metrics and sales- and outcomes-based ROI results.

“Bottom line, agencies are calling for ‘show me’ conversations in which a network digs in and explains the platform and its benefits beyond a 30,000-feet level,” says Stenziano. “They want specific information that allays their concerns and demonstrates more value, which they can then take back to their clients. Deeper conversations help accelerate the planning and negotiation processes.”  

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