ABC Unifies Video Inventory Sources To Boost Audience Reach

GeriWangABC, A+E Networks, Comcast and Canoe have initiated a pilot with broadcaster ad server FreeWheel to manage dynamic ad insertion in VOD and set-top box inventory alongside digital ads.

Video-on-demand advertising has been relatively slow to take off, namely because of greater need for back-end integration in the underlying TV tech infrastructure.

“The benefit for the buy side is simply greater scale in content for an audience that is moving away from the traditional places they had watched TV, but were not otherwise captured,” said Jon Heller, co-founder and co-CEO of FreeWheel.

“It’s helping to reclaim reach and lay the groundwork for not having to care about what screen or platform inventory is coming from when you’re doing your planning and buying.”

The benefits for the sell side are plenty, according to Geri Wang, president of ad sales for ABC.

“When we weave dynamic ad insertion into a set-top box VOD environment, we are enhancing our reach and scale, making a unified offering much more impactful,” she said. “It’s a significant step forward because it’s the first step toward unlocking even more opportunity as consumer adoption of VOD grows.”

What’s held up dynamic ad insertion in a VOD environment? Historically speaking, TV infrastructure was built around dayparts and schedules – not impressions – so there were multiple tech layers for disparate distributors. 

“We’ve focused on making it operationally easier to execute at scale, meaning sellers take on lower risk delivering against their commitments,” Heller said. “By bringing the dynamic decision down to the impression level … it unifies ad avails and allows everyone to hit their numbers.”

In 2013, ABC rolled out the Watch ABC app, which has seen 24.6 million user downloads since its inception across the iOS, Google, Amazon and Windows app stores, as well as on Apple TV, Chromecast and DIRECTV.

In addition to live streams, viewers have on-demand access to most current episodes of ABC and ABC Family original series on the day after they air.

The same year, ABC launched its cross-screen audience-planning tool ABC Unified, which, according to Nielsen XCR estimations, represents about 87.1 million impressions when coupling TV with cross-screen inventory. Viewership in the 18-49 demo is up 7% when factoring in multiplatform viewing.

ABC has seen a shift to in-app Watch viewing from the desktop, which now accounts for about 70% of viewership.

Because viewers are shifting to mobile, ABC’s pitch to advertisers during its May upfront, unsurprisingly, focused on unifying ABC audiences cross-screen.

It unveiled a linear TV tool that allows advertisers to target ads based on a mix of set-top box data, advertiser first-party data or Nielsen Buyer Insights purchase segments.

Additionally, ABC took a big step forward to deploy its data management platform across sister media assets including Disney, ESPN, Maker Studio and ABC Family, in order to shore up more addressable inventory for advertisers.

“Applying data is a big piece of what our solution looks like now, both for linear and digital opportunities,” said Wang. “Linear … [is] still a unit we’re still selling and clients are buying, but we’re giving them more knowledge about a consumer segment or our own first-party data, or [opening up access to a] third-party data set where we would jointly and transparently share information.”

Michael Bologna, president of GroupM’s advanced TV agency Modi, noted Comcast’s technology allows ABC to extract more incremental value from its on-demand inventory when ads are inserted via FreeWheel, which could ultimately command higher prices for that supply.


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