Amid the progress toward wider adoption of audience-based buying — including the new Viacom, Fox Networks Group and Turner OpenAP platform, and NBCU’s declared commitment to selling $1 billion in such deals — some crucial pieces of the puzzle have yet to fall into place.
One is workflow solutions capable of handling the now-myriad video consumption platforms and devices in a way that enables inventory owners to effectively package and sell data-based buys and then deliver on their audience promises.
While both national and local television media companies have significant opportunities to sell audience-based buys going forward, “there’s a real need around workflow,” said Lorne Brown, president of SintecMedia, in a BIA/Kelsey webinar led by USIM advanced television strategist Mitch Oscar.
The national network groups leading the charge realize that to compete with Facebook and Google for marketers’ large digital/video budgets, they’ll need to offer very large-scale audiences — and make their offerings easy to buy and fast to access — as well as provide the kind of premium content that the giant platforms lack, Brown noted. “Another thing that has to happen is that sales reps have to become much more skilled at very quickly communicating the value of those audiences,” he added.
But having spent the last decade building out and honing their digital workflows, traditional TV companies are now confronted with another broken workflow scenario when it comes to audience-based buys incorporating linear and other TV viewing platforms. This is complicating their ability to create business models for audience buys, as well as their ability to arm salespeople with what they need, Brown said.
To sell an audience deal, inventory owners have to work with SVPs, DMPs, agencies (which are themselves grappling with similar workflow problems in handling audience-based buys), and “all of these data products that are getting created outside of [TV companies’] core linear and digital infrastructure,” he pointed out.
Fixing the workflow challenges will require “connecting the audience sale to the core linear and digital infrastructure,” Brown said. And one critical part of this is creating a universal product catalog that’s representative of all linear and digital products and the audience overlays that are part of those products — a single portal to unify all selling, he stressed. “To sell programmatically, or through a self-service portal for the buyer, or through a sales rep, should not require using three different systems.”
At the same time, ads are being executed and delivered through multiple systems — including FreeWheel, Invidi, Google, Black Arrow, the MVPDs’ own systems, and reach-extension products like Videology — and it’s unrealistic to ask salespeople to “log into seven or eight different systems to find out how much inventory is available for a specific audience,” Brown said.
As for the buy side, as things are now, once an audience-based buy is made and sent to the rest of the team, “no one really knows what happens, or what they’re supposed to do with it.”
All of the information needs to be housed in a place where a product person at a TV company can identify all of the products that can be executed by that company, “then map those execution systems to saleable product units or packages that are easy to understand for sellers and easy for buyers to buy,” Brown said. “Then, when something actually gets sold, people in the business will know where it’s supposed to go, where it’s supposed to get executed, who’s supposed to give them the creative, and what the targeting is supposed to entail.”
Workflow issues aside, a universal catalog would also enable greater selling and buying flexibility. “I could, for example, sell something contextually, but still [allow the buyer to] take away audience — and conversely, if I sell an audience, I might take away a sponsorship or a GRP,” Brown noted.
SintecMedia, a developer of next-gen TV software solutions, aims to provide TV companies with the analytics needed to make the right yield decisions as they sell to different buyer types, and the tools to make buys fast and easy, he said.
Shifting Focus From Mix To Results
Asked for their observations as to where those on the buy side currently tend to fall on the receptivity versus resistance continuum, the panelists agreed that while there’s definite evolution, it’s still very much a mixed bag.
“Companies that are more data-rich are more comfortable with digital, more involved with direct selling, and more involved with results tend to move first and fastest” on the audience-based TV buying front, while “those that are further away from that tend to move slower,” summed up Dave Morgan, CEO of marketing technology company Simulmedia, which offers a data-driven TV campaign planning and activation platform.
“I think the biggest challenge right now is that there’s a perverse incentive in the market where so much of the economics of the media industry is about costs, not results,” Morgan asserted. “That does not necessarily benefit audience-based or performance-based selling. It’s the companies and agencies that are already through that that can move faster.”
Brett Hurwitz, business lead-TV at AOL, agreed that the variation in the levels of embracing data-based buying among agencies, and even among teams within an agency, is “striking.”
But he added that while making the transition has been “slow going” both with household addressable and data-driven linear, “we’ve definitely seen tremendous momentum building over the past couple of years.” More and more advertisers are seeing that addressable and programmatic “can enable them to make linear TV advertising more of a precision marketing tool,” akin to the capabilities of digital, he confirmed.
Similarly, Audrey Steele, EVP, sales research insights and strategy at Fox Networks Group, reports typically seeing “broad, enthusiastic receptivity to the idea of audience- and results-based buying,” but “a lot more resistance than I would have expected” once informational meetings are held and it actually comes to execution.
Steele agreed that the receptivity level is largely dependent on a given client’s access to, and comfort with, data — hence the high receptivity within the financial industry and digital pure plays.
“When you get down to actually applying data and working through issues of targeting, I find that in the linear world — unlike the digital world — what needs to occur to make this work best for both sides is to focus more on delivering the best possible audiences to realize the best outcomes, and to focus less on mix,” she emphasized. “Mix is where the disconnect lies. It’s tough to focus heavily on mix and also on audience delivery. The two have existed to some degree in conflict with one another in putting together data-enabled recommendations.”
Andrew Feigenson, chief revenue officer at Nielsen Catalina Solutions (NCS), said that his company’s clients tend to be data-savvy and outcomes-focused, “so we’ve seen the move to [data-based TV buying] as being an extension of what they were doing with us in digital, in many ways.”
Feigenson — who reports that growth in use of addressable in campaigns involving NCS has been “staggering” in the past 18 months (while linear growth may have slowed a bit) — predicts that OpenAP will prove one factor that will help spur audience-based TV buying. The cross-publisher platform should “open up a lot of opportunity to create new models,” he said.
The current “bit of a crisis in confidence” around the accountability of digital’s audience delivery and content context might work in favor of moving targeting models to television, he noted.
“So I’d say that [audience-based TV is] in a good moment of momentum. But there’s still a big question about how to become predictable. That’s where the mix side comes in, because when you’re buying audience-based and you have a whole bunch of formats, it’s hard to figure out how to turn that into a model that’s as predictable as the [television] mix models traditionally have been.”
David Tucker, head of strategy for the SwellShark agency, which works with many “challenger brand” clients, said that resistance can be engendered by less-than-optimal experiences in implementing campaigns.
In some cases at agencies, a buying team will be given the brief that defines the target audience, and then have to try to evaluate various partner data sources and make the most efficient buy on its own, even though the buying team wasn’t part of crafting the brief, he noted. Not surprisingly, this often means that they’ll use methods that they’ve found efficient in the traditional arena, which aren’t likely to work in advanced TV.
To avoid this, SwellShark took pains to ensure that an addressable campaign that it’s now doing with one client is a joint initiative between the agency’s television buying team and its strategy and planning department. “Strategy and buying should work together at every step of the process, including discussing which sources we trust and which data pulls from these sources are actually going to get us the audience we want to reach,” Tucker said.
“In the end, the real challenge is getting out of that GRP, CPP world and really getting back to brass tacks about who is the person I’m trying to put the impression in front of,” he summed up. “When you keep the value focused on that, it makes it that much easier to go forward with this kind of a buy.”