Doom and gloom predictions about television have come down every year since the internet stopped being the channel you spent your leftover media dollars on and became a spending priority. Now, the internet is TV –– or the internet is smartphones – or your smartphone is your computer – the lines are blurring between devices and screens. (Print has come back from the dead so often that we should just start calling it undead -- the Zombie Print Apocalypse).
Last year, digital advertising dollars surpassed those spent on TV in the United States for the first time, according to Magma. This year, we are seeing TV ratings decline across the board for adults 18-49, despite consuming more content than ever. The situation is so dire that Viacom, Turner, and Fox have joined forces to standardize data-driven audience buying on TV – in other words, to mimic how advertisers laser-target audiences on the internet using programmatic tactics. Of course, an idea like this only works if other networks join their efforts.
In the meantime, eMarketer estimates programmatic TV will account for 6% of all TV spending by 2018. In its current form, programmatic TV lacks scale, but it is an opportunity for marketers to explore a channel’s capabilities and corresponding impact on their business without too much financial risk. With big players like Google lending their technology and support to this effort, expect increased interest and spending.
What does this mean for how broadcasters will distribute content and how success is measured?
We will see the extension of personalized content distribution. In other words, on-demand programming selected by the viewer and delivered digitally. Expect the big broadcasters to expand their online-only original series and other on-demand offerings in the vein of Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube. It is already happening on ABC.com, and there is no reason to think the other broadcast networks – and some cable channels – won’t follow suit.
The more difficult task will be the creation of standardized units, devices, and measurement for programmatic TV. As opposed to personalized content distribution, which gives consumers content on their schedules, programmatic TV finds specific viewers who fit advertisers’ criteria when and where they are most likely to be watching TV using additional layers of data. Standardization of programmatic TV is the only way for advertisers to achieve enough scale to make the investment pay off.
Right now, every programmatic TV vendor has different specs, different ways of measuring success, and a different total audience size. Agreeing on common guidelines across vendors will allow marketers to group multiple vendors and reach more of the total TV audience. As much as working together goes against the spirit of competition inherent between the vendors, standardizing the offerings and metrics is the only way to establish programmatic TV at scale.
If this is TV’s future, how can advertisers continue to be effective as broadcast TV becomes less about actual broadcasting and more about distribution?
- The future of TV is device-neutral. Marketers spend a lot of time divvying up their budgets between televisions, phones, and computers. But consumers are only concerned with whether or not the content they wish to view is available on whatever electronic device they happen to be holding or sitting in front of in the moment. Content needs to be available across devices, viewable/audible on all screens, and quick to download. Otherwise marketers risk being ignored, or worse – risk not being seen at all.
- Put (your most relevant) consumers first. We are diligent analysts of consumer’s media habits. We are drowning in research. Now, we need to put that data to work in finding more germane moments with our most-likely-to-buy consumers wherever they’re consuming TV content. Until we can implement standardizing purchase and measurement systems for programmatic TV, marketers should be testing and learning with various current vendors across the space. .
- Get a seat at the table. As we saw with the new collaboration between Fox, Viacom, and Turner, the industry is already inching towards the standardization of programmatic TV systems. It behooves advertisers and their agencies to encourage these discussions and the adoption of guidelines across the board. It is also necessary for marketers to rekindle or develop relationships with vendors and networks as the nature of their business changes and occasions arise to partner on new forms of targeting, content delivery, and measurement. The future of TV is collaboration.
TV as we’ve known it is morphing, but at the most basic level it is simply content. The need for content is not going away, so we can’t start playing “Taps” for TV just yet. An agency’s value is in its ability to capitalize on the current forms of media to meet an advertiser’s goal, which ultimately means being relevant to consumers. We just have to stay on top of TV’s continuing evolution, in order to do so.