INVISION CEO Watkins Says Advanced Television Advertising Tools Becoming A Necessity

Christine Watkins is CEO of INVISION INC., a provider of advertising sales management systems to the broadcast and cable network industries.

INVISION INCThe advertiser is looking for better attribution models across all forms of advertising these days including TV.  Please discuss INVISION’s transition from a primary focus on tools for traditional television ad sales to an expansion into advanced televisioin advertising brought on by the digital channel.

CW: It simply comes down to listening to our customers (network ad sales teams) who are listening to their customers (advertisers and agencies).  The television advertising marketplace is facing unprecedented pressure to evolve as advertisers and agencies demand levels of flexibility and accountability on par with internet advertising.  In response to these buyer demands, television ad sellers and ad delivery technology vendors are rapidly implementing advanced television advertising capabilities such as interactivity and addressability.

If ad delivery technology vendors are already offering your customers advanced television advertising capabilities, why does INVISION need to get involved now?

Though dynamic (internet-like) ad servers might be the sexier organisms in the advanced television advertising ecosystem, business will not get done at any level of scale without highly flexible ad sales management tools such as our DealMaker.  We learned this harsh lesson with internet advertising in the late 1990’s when the spreadsheets and bailing wire being used for ad operations tasks began to collapse under the weight of the sales being enabled by DoubleClick, NetGravity and other early internet ad servers.

Couldn’t the existing television sales systems, such as DealMaker, or internet-only equivalents (Operative, Solbright Google/DoubleClick’s DART Sales Manager, etc.) handle the current “weight” of advanced television advertising activity?

I think there are some lessons to learn from earlier emerging advertising platforms such as mobile and cable video-on-demand (VOD).  Every new platform goes through a phase where its scalability is limited by consumer adoption (increased consumer usage drives inventory capacity).  Thus, the ability to bundle the emerging platform with your primary advertising products becomes a key evolutionary step in getting the new platform to state where it can be profitable on a standalone basis.  For addressable and interactive television advertising, I believe it will be traditional television, not internet advertising, that serves as the bundled “big brother.”  However, though DealMaker is an extremely scalable product, we know that we are going to have to make deep functional alterations to handle advanced television ad deals.

Why alter your existing product?  Wouldn’t it be easier to build a standalone version of DealMaker just for advanced television advertising?

A standalone system will not break down the barriers that could easily stunt the growth of addressable and interactive television advertising.  First off, this creates a personal return-on-investment roadblock for the television salespeople whom we will be relying on to accelerate advanced television advertising.  During the “bundling phase” that I describe above, addressable and interactive advertising will typically be tiny portions of overall television deals.  Thus, they will also drive relatively tiny fractions of the commissions being earned by the respective salespeople.  By requiring a distinct set of tools and processes for the execution of the non-traditional deal elements, we are increasing labor in return for stunted compensation.  If I were a salesperson in such a scenario, I would press the buyer to shift deal dollars to the traditional (easy) side.  Additionally, a distinct set of sales tools for emerging elements becomes a barrier that ends up feeding the salesperson anxiety already inherent with any new product.

Wouldn’t increased commission rates on advanced television advertising deals address the “return” problem you outline?

It sure helps, and I am a huge proponent of this approach with any emerging ad product being introduced to a traditional sales team.  However, as addressable and interactive advertising do reach scale, this solution becomes economically unreasonable.  Simultaneously, the advanced portion of your business has now graduated above “rounding error” status.  You’ve reached a point where it is more important than ever to manage all of your television ad business, traditional and non-traditional, within a single set of sales management tools.  A simple example is revenue reporting.  If you need to pull data from distinct databases and then merge them into a spreadsheet simply to monitor the pace of your business across platforms, you are going to hit problems with information accessibility and accuracy.  When the advanced ad dollars were insignificant, so was this issue but not anymore.  Factor in the basic economies of scale of having traditional and advanced capabilities in all of your sales tools and processes, and it becomes apparent that the standalone solution is inadequate during the emerging, maturing and matured phases of addressable and interactive advertising.

What is INVISION working on beyond addressable and interactive advertising?

From an ad operations perspective, interactive and addressable television advertising can be viewed as hybrids of traditional television and internet advertising.  Thus, our work upgrading DealMaker for advanced television will serve as a base for eventually enabling full digital and cross-platform capabilities.  Prioritized by how the respective ad opportunities are of importance to our customers and prospects, we should be well positioned to tackle all of the following:

  • Television Video-on-Demand (VOD) – cable, satellite or telcos
  • Broadband Video
  • Internet Display
  • Mobile (Apps, WAP & Video)
  • Digital Video Recorders (DVR)
  • Interactive Television (iTV)
  • Electronic/Interactive Programming Guides (EPGs/IPGs)

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