How To Buy Unified Multiscreen TV Audiences – Despite Old Infrastructure

On TV And Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video.

 Today’s column is written by Ari Turner, senior vice president of sales operations at Ampersand.

Scale in TV is traditionally associated with the amount of inventory. But relying on the blunt force of media tonnage is not sustainable in 2020 and beyond. In our current era of multiscreen TV, true transformation requires scale of both inventory and data-driven insights that are packaged and transacted in a unified manner, all done with ease of execution. But easier said than done?

There are two peaks that need to be scaled, both of which are surmountable today: compatibility of ad technologies and communication between buy and sell sides around unified audience definitions.

Old tech and new tech incompatibility

The incompatibility between old and new TV ad infrastructure should not serve as an excuse for not even trying. Do not let perfection become the enemy of the good. Yes, automation within platform integrations would be ideal but it will take time before we get to a comprehensive, IP-based framework, when the old analog-based TV buying technology infrastructure can finally be tossed onto the scrap heap.

Until then, there is ample room for progress as long as the sell- and buy-side experiences on these platforms are easy and not clunky. There is a lag in sophistication between digital and traditional ad ops among multiscreen TV companies. Linear TV MVPDs have been slower in adopting contemporary backend technology than the digital streaming platforms. And while these tech discrepancies present optimization challenges, the multiscreen TV ecosystem can still cooperate and operate with a unified approach.

Let’s look at how one can execute a sale with segments that have a consistent audience definition across screenseven if the tech isn’t fully there to support it.

While real time optimization might not be an option with traditional linear ad tech, ad buyers can still plan on and steward audiences as well as measure and report on audiences on the back end of a campaign. These capabilities enable the ability to sell against unified audiences today. This would allow for the fulfillment of linear delivery to be as close to real time as possible, which would then reveal the need for any real-time optimization of the digital portion of the campaign, thereby allowing for holistic delivery across all screens. Ultimately, the sweat equity required to combine these components will be well worth it.

Another area of opportunity resides further in addressability. If the industry en masse focuses on the addressable component of TV ad tech, we’ll get to a comprehensive IP-based framework much quicker. In the meantime, we can continue to transact in this split-tech infrastructure which will help accelerate the coveted hockey stick growth of true multiscreen audience reach.

Communication and unity create the path forward 

Our second peak to scale is communication between buy and sell sides, and unification of audience definitions. At the end of the day, incompatible tech in TV is not a deal-breaker and can be worked around as long as buy and sell sides resolve to cooperate.

The bigger challenge is trying to unify audience definitions when it comes to targeting and measurement across a multiscreen TV buy. Consortiums such as OpenAP and industry groups, for example, Project OAR, are pushing for audience segments to be transacted uniformly across linear and streaming. And brands also want the option to bring their own data to customize audience segments for both linear and streaming. It’s simply not realistic to expect that brands will continue to accept third-party segments for one portion and custom segments for another.

Therefore, the marketplace must have the flexibility to enable the buy side to use unified segments across the entire TV landscape, allowing for apples to apples aggregation of reporting on the back end. Too often the sell side is only capable within the current infrastructure to offer bottled segments across some screens rather than customized audience segments unified across all screens. The buy side is losing tolerance for this disparity.

Additionally, the industry craves efficiency in audience reach. Don’t be surprised if the chorus advocating for a Cost per Incremental Reach transactional metric in TV grows louder by the day. This is where local cable and national addressable campaigns can ignite growth through driving optimal and incremental reach.

The bottom line is that the current compatibility and communication challenges are surmountable, even in the near term. We must not let these manageable obstacles lull us into a state of inertia while we wait for things to become easier. These are real challenges, but if we as a collective ecosystem can keep the test and learn mindset, as many agencies are starting to do with unified buying teams, we’ll be well on our way to our desired future state.

If we keep our eyes on the prize and remain flexible and adaptable in our problem-solving, 2021 could be the year that we scale the peaks.

Follow Ari Turner (@MeetAmpersand) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.