How 2020 has Redefined Fluidity in TV Advertising

by Christine Grammier

This past year tested individuals, industries, and governments. What started as "business as usual" became anything but. Working from home was once a perk of many organizations—now it's table stakes. From now on, how companies handle remote, on-site, and other location-based decisions for employees will be forever changed. For the TV industry, things will likely start normalizing in 2021, with content production in full swing and sports coming back. However, the way our industry plans, buys, and measures will never (and should never) be the same. We're at a "now what?" moment. Let's unpack what that means and how marketers can quickly adapt to the new normal.


We didn't lose the upfronts in 2020, they just looked a lot different. Marketers were, and still are, able to order in two windows leading to increased flexibility of deal terms and options. At the beginning of the year, it appeared that budgets disappeared overnight, and for some industries, it did. Networks and programmers were trying to hold onto their dollars, making the scatter market anemic. Meanwhile, marketers held back money from the upfronts or canceled via options.


Now we see marketers rebooting their media budgets and taking advantage of a healthy scattered market, allowing them to get CTV/OTT inventory they never thought possible. So it should be no surprise that dollars are moving into CTV/OTT where brands can have more flexibility on commitments. There's an increase in flexibility, and it's an exciting time to start experimenting and learning. Marketers are seizing the moment to use new metrics like sales lift, website visits, in-store visits, and more. The caveat is, you need to start benchmarking now to set yourself up for success in 2021. Benchmarks across screens are critical, and you'll want near real-time data for campaign optimization.


Understanding true fluidity across screens

TV buyers and sellers have evolved the concept of fluidity over the past decade, and traditional TV viewing shifted slowly into more digital formats. Fluidity is the industry's ability to deliver impressions no matter the stream or screen. TV networks and advertisers can make good on a negotiated impression level on any screen. Fluidity is often included in deal structures as a simple percentage allocation, allowing TV networks to deliver up to a specific percentage of their impressions outside of linear instead of full-episode players, streaming, and video on demand.


True fluidity expands on this idea to allow marketers (many times in partnership with TV networks) to manage investments across all screens and properties in almost real time against a custom audience match guarantee. For example, an advertiser investing with Disney could move dollars from ESPN to ABC FEP to Hulu, and so on. The advertiser can optimize Disney's advanced TV platforms, adjusting the campaign as needed.


Brands and agencies are embracing the concept of true fluidity to maximize campaign performance and keep up with consumers. Flexible and dynamic, true fluidity draws on more data points and changing negotiation strategies between the brand and media owner. You can find your most valuable audiences with your video budgets like never before. It's not one-size-fits-all but rather a fruitful partnership to provide options for customization. True fluidity analyzes what's happening now, understands how fragmentation affects reach, and provides marketers with the ability to achieve incrementality as it happens.


Seizing the moment

Marketers need to seize this moment and use flexibility options as they manage their cross-screen video investments. To achieve the reach in TV you are accustomed to, you must now use new approaches, data, and measurement. Ask yourself, "have I really made sure that my dollars are moving across screens to reach the households that might purchase my product? Am I measuring cross-screen to prove that I'm reaching everyone?" Here are three ways to start managing your holistic video spend better:

  1. Reach and frequency 

    Understand the reach that each platform, network, and/or daypart is providing. Reach is a driver and goal for anyone investing in TV. Understand linear reach decay on your current investments to avoid oversaturating your linear TV audience or under-serving your OTT/CTV audience. Utilize cross-screen measurement to analyze your campaign's cross-screen delivery, then cross-reference with CPMs to optimize for ROI.

  2. Cross-screen custom audiences 

    Custom audiences enable you to match any attributes you've identified, whether it's first- or third-party data. Your best option is to license data and use it consistently across multiple channels to plan, activate, and measure. You can combine your most important audience with their linear TV viewing behavior so that in CTV/OTT, you are investing your dollars in "light TV viewers" or suppressing "heavy TV viewers" who may already be overexposed in linear TV. Cross-screen measurement helps you continuously balance your advertising in a fragmented landscape.

  3. Attribution 

    Make sure you're tying your TV spend to consumer actions after being exposed. Cross-screen attribution connects the video media event back to conversions, which may include online or offline purchases, website visitation, store visits, and tune-ins. By using test and control groups, a marketer can understand the impact that video media had on the brand's bottom line, no matter how it was purchased or viewed. Use these insights to drive smarter buys and more impactful creative executions in the future and leverage this same data to measure diminishing returns at the household level and find your frequency saturation points. You can then refine these custom audiences to focus on the households you know are under-served and suppress those already seeing too many exposures, regardless of whether it's on linear, CTV, or OTT.


Embracing more advanced cross-screen measurement allows you to be nimble, take action on insights, and access the data you need for true fluidity. The first half of 2021 is your best chance to get the tools in place to activate with true fluidity in your upfront investments for 2022.

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