Fox TV Stations Take Linear Programmatic For A Test Drive

Fox Television Stations, a network broadcast group which owns 28 local TV stations in 17 markets, revealed Wednesday it’s adding more automation to its linear TV inventory through a partnership with WideOrbit.

Fox Television Stations first dipped its toes in programmatic in 2014 when it struck a private marketplace deal with Facebook’s LiveRail for cross-platform and digital buys.

But with WideOrbit, it will avail its linear inventory in three ways: through the open marketplace, programmatic direct and a direct-response model.

Although it’s still early and Fox didn’t detail what percentage of inventory will be sold programmatically, it called automated sales “complementary” to its current direct sales operation.

“We’re going to test all three of these and figure out the best way to maximize revenue for our stations while giving clients the opportunity to transact how they want,” Joe Oulvey, EVP of Fox Station Sales, told AdExchanger.

Notably, an open marketplace buy on linear TV is not RTB. Instead, Fox Television Stations’ open marketplace lets more buyers and DSPs access its inventory in an automated manner, rather than as a programmatic direct buy, which would be structured for an individual buyer. 

“We decided to participate in programmatic on the linear side because no one knows what the ad ecosystem will look like in two years,” Oulvey added. “We didn’t want to be beholden to the market without any influence over how it evolves.”

One of the main benefits of additional automation is providing buyers better efficiencies. Local TV inventory is often undervalued due to a lack of comprehensive measurement.

And local TV is simply too hard to buy in its present state, said Jennifer Hungerbuhler, EVP and managing director of local video and audio investment for Dentsu Aegis Network. A big problem is scale.

“If I want to buy in the market for Atlanta, for example, I may only have two stations out of eight who are availing inventory right now,” she said.

She said Fox’s introduction of programmatic in linear will bring much-needed scale to linear TV in the local marketplace and she’s hopeful other broadcast groups follow suit.

Dentsu also wants to take advantage of programmatic direct deals, which allow select buyers access to Fox’s inventory and automates more elements around workflow and billing.

Programmatic direct buyers also can append first-party data to their buys to improve audience activation.

“The business advantage [of programmatic] for our properties was obvious,” Oulvey said. “We felt we could generate more revenue and give more access to a larger group of advertisers than traditional sales methods.”

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