British Sky Media Brings Custom Audience-Like Targeting To TV

JamieWestWhen will buying a linear TV ad be as simple as executing a Facebook ad buy? Sky Media, the ad sales arm of one European broadcast and telecom giant, says it’s already happening.

British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) dominates the pay-TV market in the UK, counting some 10.7 million paid subscribers a month and banking nearly £800 million (US$1.3 billion) a year in advertising revenue.

BSkyB features a cross-section of content from sports to movies and premium entertainment, which it pipes via satellite to nearly 11 million household set-top boxes. Its other distribution points include an on-demand service called Sky Go, enabling viewers to tune in to linear or on-demand channels via mobile or PC.

“Sky is fortunate, in many respects, to operate at scale across all of the platforms we [are] on,” said Jamie West, deputy managing director of Sky Media. “By way of reference, we’re the biggest commercial sports website in the UK and we have on our Sky Go product 60 million streams on a monthly basis. Sky Media’s role, as the commercial division of Sky, is to help monetize those assets.”

As in the US, brands in the UK historically reserved large-scale TV buys to build awareness.

“Particularly in the UK, TV has been perceived to be in the realm of ‘the big, the rich and the few’ brands, rather than a deliverer of relevant audience alone,” West explained.

Because the media agency historically exerted control over where dollars were spent, there hadn’t traditionally been a direct dialogue with brands about finding relevant audiences. But as advertisers increasingly apply their own first-party data to target their digital ad buys, television broadcasters, agencies and advertisers are working more collaboratively to take advantage of subscriber datasets and marketers’ first-party datasets.

The ability to target at the audience level is changing Sky Media’s advertiser client base, too. While local advertisers like real estate and regional automotive traditionally invested first in search and regional press, they’re now turning to TV to take advantage of household addressability.

Sky Media, in response, introduced products to accommodate its advertisers’ new demands.

Last August, Sky Media began testing a Sky AdSmart platform to allow marketers to target ads at the household level based on post code and 90 unique attributes (like whether the household consists of adults only or there are children) from third-party data marketing providers including Experian’s consumer lifestyle and financial segments.

The premise of the ad serve is as such: Sky AdSmart technology delivers a library of advertisements via satellite signal to the Sky+HD set-top box, prioritizes which household profile is the best match for the particular ad request and then dynamically inserts the placement into the live ad break.

Sky is also adding custom segments in the coming months for more precise targeting, including attributes like pet ownership, professional role and number of autos in a household, West said.

“[Just as] Facebook has enabled you to target your own, specific customers [in digital], an advertiser can now bring their customer dataset to Sky and match it through [anonymized] system to system integration with our customer base,” he said.

In theory, this could enable a retail brand to serve different creative to a lapsed customer than to a prospect. About 225 different advertisers have used AdSmart since January and in eight months the company clocked just less than 650 campaigns with about 600 million impressions served via the platform.

One such advertiser, German automaker Audi AG, used Sky AdSmart to target households that fit its preferred profile for Audi A6 and 6S models. While Audi once targeted placements based on preferred “shows” that would appeal to an affluent prospective base, the company instead worked with agency Mediacom and Sky AdSmart to find household-level targets and circumvent “cherry-picking schedules.”

“We are investing in both our ad technology and [in-house] data-management platform, so we are able to manage our inventory and audiences much more strategically and efficiently,” West said. “Our goal is to serve ads across all platforms Sky operates on, whether that be linear TV, on demand, display or mobile, sequentially or consequentially.”

With regard to dynamic ad server integrations, Sky has and will continue to add different ad-serving technologies for display, video on demand and set-top box ad-serves, West said.

“I’m not in the business of trying to drive my impressions down, frankly, but will we consider [programmatic] and integrate dynamic ad servers?” he said. Asked whether inventory would one day be accessible by agency trading desks, West said “probably not,” but with Sky’s ambition to serve ads across multiple platforms, “we will move more toward an automated cross-platform solution.”


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