*This article was originally published in Broadcasting & Cable.
Fixing the ‘Frankenstack’
“For buyers and sellers of digital advertising, the ad is still an ad regardless of whether it’s destined to play on linear TV or through an app on a Connected TV. Unfortunately, for many of today’s digital advertisers, this is a much more challenging process.” -Bunker Sessions, Extreme Reach
We’ve reached a point where cross-screen media availability is a given. Where once we would have been surprised to find our favorite TV show on the internet, we’re now shocked and disappointed if it isn’t.
But while we, as audiences, have been blessed with great content on all screens, the ad experience for viewers is still less than optimal on some of them. This is because the digital entertainment revolution hasn’t transformed ad workflow and delivery to digital destinations quite as dramatically as it has content distribution to all those new screens.
Ad delivery in the broadcast realm has been well-established for decades and the creative asset workflows have become streamlined during that time. But as broadcast–the most mass media of platforms–moves toward offering advertisers the same kinds of precise targeting available in the online world, they are encountering more complexity with their broadcast buys, necessitating updated approaches to ad workflow and delivery. In short, if programmers are going to make their content available in all the places consumers expect it, like VOD, OTT, CTV, and more, the advertising to support it must be there too.
It’s easy to think of digital content like water flowing through the plumbing of your house. Whether you want to take a shower, do laundry or wash the dishes, the water is the same. The device you’re using to access it (shower, washing machine or sink) shouldn’t affect its flow or quality. For buyers and sellers of digital advertising, the ad is still an ad regardless of whether it’s destined to play on linear TV or through an app on a Connected TV. Unfortunately, for many of today’s digital advertisers, this is a much more challenging process.
At the NAB’s Streaming Summit in New York last fall, I moderated a panel of three leaders discussing how their networks are working to adapt ad ops for the content everywhere world.
Challenge: More Channels, More Complexity, More Competition
Ten years ago, the only device ad ops people had to worry about was the set top box. Now, every device needs advertising that adheres to a different set of specifications, and too often marketers end up trying to run non-digital assets on a digital buy. While that may not sound dire, there can be huge issues with quality degradation, and as FOX Vice President of Advertising Solutions Mark London noted, it’s unacceptable for any ad, anywhere, to play if the size, formatting or viewability is anything less than pristine.
Fox is addressing this challenge by updating its products, i.e., the inventory it’s selling. This year, the network debuted JAZ Pods and Fox Blocks, units that are applicable to both digital and linear placements. These units, which reduce the overall ad minutes while enhancing the impact of each spot, also help the network in its competitive battles with ad-free counterparts.
Challenge: Sales Evolves Faster than Operations
While digital evolves so quickly that something 10 years old may seem like it’s 50, many programmers are still relying on inefficient processes and often terribly outdated equipment or, as London called it, “a Frankenstein tech stack.”
The workflows for broadcast and cable networks haven’t changed much either, save the advent of digital delivery, a development that ended the headache of sending tapes around. “People still send you a piece of paper to tell you what commercials to run,” said Phil Lalonde, senior vice president of ad sales operations for Viacom Media Networks.
Lalonde compared models that are currently in use to those of display advertising, noting that the industry is past due in creating an ecosystem specifically for the needs of video. “We need to streamline the delivery and the old workflow to get the creative to multiple platforms with one or two touches instead of 17 or 18.”
“No other industry could survive when the workflow hasn’t changed in 50 years,” he added.
Challenge: Lack of Awareness and Collaboration on the Buy Side
Linear ad buyers and digital ad buyers, for the most part, operate separately, and as Greg Lubetkin, executive director of sales operations at Disney ABC Digital, pointed out, the two often don’t understand each other or their different priorities. For example, the digital buyer may know nothing about broadcast’s programming restrictions and contractual constraints, such as a 2 a.m. cut off or a required 20-minute separation.
London agreed. “This is TV, there are rules you need to follow,” he emphasized to the audience. “Doing it wrong can get you blacklisted: ‘we told you you can’t run auto, the first ad we saw was auto, you’re out!’”
Working with trusted server-side platforms (SSPs), Lubetkin told us, is a way to at least be confident ads aren’t being served ads where they shouldn’t be, but a true fix requires more. A start is the implementation of industry standard categories, so, for example, every auto ad would be labelled auto – not car, not vehicle, not Ford. Next would be implementing systems that can communicate with each other so programmers can more easily adhere to obligations like category separation and frequency gaps.
Making Strides Toward Delivering on the Promise
The panelists agreed that it’s not all doom and gloom because solutions to workflow and delivery challenges actually exist and adoption rates are growing in step with advertisers’ understanding of the challenges the new media world brings.
“We have single placements running to our digital outlets and also to set-top box VOD, and the impressions are being counted by a single system. It’s not as efficient as it could be, but we’re doing it,” noted Lubetkin.
“We’re building out internal systems to look at cross-platform inventory and trying to optimize yield across platforms,” Lalonde added “but we’re still dependent on the level of access our distribution partners give us.”
“Brands have to sell stuff, so they’re going to create ads to help sell that stuff. They’re going to want to go where the people are, and the people are watching TV,” said London. “There’s a lot of energy around building solutions to accommodate those needs in an ever-evolving industry.”