Is Linear Ad Replacement Finally Here? SpotX Bolsters Its Addressable TV Chops

The video ad server and SSP SpotX boosted its addressable TV capabilities Tuesday by upgrading its platform, which can now replace linear ads on smart TVs in real time.

This function can be enabled by content owners working through Project OAR, an open standard led by TV manufacturer VIZIO and whose founding members include AMC Networks, Disney, NBCUniversal and Comcast’s FreeWheel among others. OAR lets ad decisioning platforms like SpotX hook in and replace linear ads, based on the programmer’s needs.

Ad replacement can happen in one of two ways, said Matt McLeggon, VP of advanced TV at SpotX. There’s single advertiser slot optimization (SASO) where a national advertiser can insert a different version of an ad to specifically target demos or DMAs.

And there’s multiple advertiser slot optimization (MASO), which replaces a national ad with a spot from a completely different advertiser.

That sounds simple, but it necessitates a lot of backend work by the programmer to ensure the content schedule accommodates ad replacement within specific breaks and for certain spots.

“It’s a lot of coordinating between scheduling, programming, as well as our business and technology group which manages this for us,” said Evan Adlman, SVP of advanced advertising at AMC, which is using SpotX and is one of the first content producers active on Project OAR.

Besides marking inventory and picking the spots where ad replacement is allowed, there’s also a lot of technical nitty-gritty – like making sure AMC is properly integrated with the Google ad server, which is the connection point that lets AMC put its inventory into the SpotX environment.

AMC has long experimented with dynamic ad insertion. In 2018, it tried out the capability via a partnership with the now-defunct Sorenson Media – purchased by Nielsen in a bankruptcy auction in 2019.

Back then, AMC tested addressability using its own promo inventory, a strategy it’s repeating this go around.

“That’s the safer step into this,” Adlman said. AMC will next try to activate SASO, and finally enable MASO.

The current challenge is that addressability breaks the Nielsen rating. While that’s not a problem for digital buyers, it is for linear buyers, who need to understand what to do without Nielsen, and how to convert GRPs.

“We want to make sure we can provide real results to the advertiser before we take it to the next step,” Adlman said. And the future, he hopes, will be a bunch of non-guaranteed programmatic buyers purchasing non-guaranteed programmatic inventory – basically it’ll be multiple advertiser slot optimization at scale. A MASO fiesta.

For SpotX, the ultimate goal is to take different types of addressable formats and avail them in a programmatic marketplace. “We’re making different types of addressable inventory look just like OTT for programmatic buyers and DSPs so key partners like The Trade Desk that buy OTT inventory through SpotX can now buy addressable through SpotX as well,” McLeggon said.

Next step is scaling it out – McLeggon hopes that now that SpotX has the pipes, the budgets will increase and more inventory will become available.

It’s still early days, but he anticipates eventually linear TV will be transacted with digital tools and technology, many of which are programmatic.

“We felt addressable and programmatic made a really good match,” McLeggon said. “If you’re going to a national spot and turn it into 20 million impressions, you’ll want programmatic advertising to do that. And if you’re going to individually target users, you’ll want to use data and programmatic is a great way to leverage data.”

SpotX also said it was powering programmatic set-top box activations two MVPDs, neither of which it can publicly name.