A+E Networks Connects Direct Sold Inventory To Programmatic

A+E Networks said Wednesday that it will work with Comcast-owned FreeWheel to unify demand across its direct sold and programmatic ad buyers.

When viewers stream shows via an OTT device, phone or computer, A+E has to balance programmatic bids with direct sold buys sold through cable channels, like A&E, History and Viceland, said Jason DeMarco, the network’s VP of programmatic and audience solutions.

Sometimes it makes sense for A+E to serve a direct client’s commercial even if a data-driven buyer will offer more, because the network has guaranteed a certain level of exposure to a specific audience, he said. Or if a viewer has seen the same few national brand ads many times, A+E might want to bring in outside programmatic demand to avoid frequency issues.

“We’re getting away from this waterfall approach,” DeMarco said, similar to how digital media publishers embraced header bidding.

Programmatic demand is being put on equal footing with direct sold campaigns in part because it’s starting to deliver equivalent value. Just a few years ago, connected TV inventory trailed linear ad rates by about 15-20%, DeMarco said. But in the past year, programmatic CPMs have level set with cable commercials, and he said he expects programmatic inventory to surpass linear in pure CPM rates sometime next year.

Most revenue and inventory will still be in linear television, but data-driven features like household targeting and sales attribution give real-time ad auctions elevate CPMs, he said.

A+E is also focused on bringing more brands to its content. The programmatic group runs about 60-100 insertion order-based brand campaigns per month, DeMarco said. Through its unified auction platform with FreeWheel, A+E sees another 400-500 advertisers.

The new unified auction also allows third-party DSPs to bid on A+E’s inventory. With partners like The Trade Desk, Adobe and Amobee, DeMarco said the number of overall A+E advertisers could jump again from 500 to more like 5,000.

“What we’ve identified is the value in having that mix and breadth of buyers,” he said. For one thing, it’s important for managing frequency and viewer experience. When direct sold campaigns are favored for OTT or digital inventory, as is the norm with many streaming services, a handful of national brands can oversaturate viewers by scooping up all the CTV spots.

Programmatic buyers tend to be smaller or less recognizable than direct sold brands. But a regional auto dealer may be willing to pay more than Ford if it can target a household in-market for a car or pay based on guaranteed dealership visits. “Tapping into these more local or underserved markets is a strong incremental revenue source,” DeMarco said.

A+E is the first broadcaster to publicly launch with FreeWheel’s unified auction tech, said Geoff Wolinetz, FreeWheel SVP of client relationships. But a couple other networks are testing the service, including one regional domestic broadcaster and an international client.

Wolinetz said the product doesn’t replace direct sold advertising, which is still how networks fill cable inventory. But it is an indicator of how TV media planning will be increasingly managed by automated tech.

The world we’re aimed at collectively is a world where there’s more automated optimization, regardless of how the inventory is sourced,” he said. “Either from the SSP or a salesperson.”

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