Dip into any ad-focused publication this week and you will see coverage of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Digital Content NewFronts, where advertisers can buy placements next to online shows well in advance of them airing. You also have the long-established upfronts, where the same bidding process happens with broadcast television’s new season of shows.
What might confuse digital media professionals, though, is the “futures market” that the upfronts and NewFronts are geared towards. Larger advertisers seem to favor them because there is the guarantee of a defined product at a set price, enabling them to plan their brand campaigns well in advance.
These products are attractive solely because they are known entities. Each show or event offers a certain reach, and because it is produced by a studio and distributed via established channels, advertisers trust that brand safety, ad fraud and viewability won’t be a problem.
Brands’ objectives suffer
The difficulty with upfront or NewFront buying is that it is critically limited in delivering a brand’s objectives. Brands want to reach their audience at scale, in a safe environment, and in a cost-effective way. And the truth is that unless you’re someone like Adidas sponsoring the World Cup, there are few shows or events capable of providing that no-brainer matchup between brands and shows/events with the required reach. They’re few and far between, which means the majority of brand spend in this futures market is going on a product that has loose contextual relevance, loose targeting and inexact reach.
This state of affairs has been accepted in the absence of alternatives, but over the last five years programmatic advertising has created a framework for making a brand’s digital spend more effective, efficient and accountable. First display, now video and next up is TV. A programmatic framework gives brands the ability to utilize granular targeting, segment audiences using their own first-party data, and make sure every impression they buy reaches the right person.
TV and VOD content, which makes up the bulk of the upfronts and NewFronts, is still the top end of the inventory market, and its prices should reflect that quality. However, brands now expect flexibility, and may only want to buy a slice of a show’s audience, the slice that matches the custom audience segment they’ve defined and evolve dynamically day-by-day. That means buying in real-time. And it means buying across TV, VOD and short-form inventory sources to deliver granular targeting at scale.
Is programmatic the answer?
The industry has been slowly waking up to this, with lots of talk over the last year about TV bringing the benefits of programmatic buying and selling to a channel that is still the biggest recipient of U.S. ad spend.
This move to embrace the flexibility of programmatic is becoming more and more apparent, as less than a year after buying BrightRoll, Yahoo is already mentioning programmatic video in the same breath as the NewFronts. Lisa Utzschneider, the firm’s senior vice president of sales for the Americas, explained in a press statement how she wants to give advertisers a broader array of options for their campaigns.
"We know that advertisers want to tap into premium video content that connects them with engaged audiences across devices, and they also want to buy video ads programmatically," she said. "With our new slate of digital video programming and a wide variety of video ad formats and buying options, we're helping advertisers meet business objectives - whether they want to buy a show, buy a channel or buy an audience segment."
It will take a little longer for the technology that’s now available for VOD services to become available to the TV industry, but there is an irresistible trend towards the application of programmatic buying and selling techniques up the inventory quality scale. This trend is absolutely necessary if the tools available to advertisers are ever going to reflect the fragmented, multi-channel content experiences of their audiences.
Planning and buying campaigns against siloed channels, months ahead of time, is a relic of another age of advertising. The challenge now is for media companies, vendors and advertisers to accelerate the delivery of the infrastructure that will bring the benefits of programmatic trading to every ad opportunity, so that brands can define their audiences against a variety of data sources, before buying it across every channel.
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