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A Programmatic TV Standard Takes Shape


ChartingThe Programmatic TV Standards Group is drafting a standard designed to set baseline parameters for national and locally distributed inventory.

The organization is championed by a few industry vets, agencies (Magna Global, Starcom MediaVest), one third-party measurer (Management Science Associates, or MSA) and vendors (AudienceXpress).

“The first standard we’ll be defining is [what constitutes] national distribution,” said Walt Horstman, president of AudienceXpress, the data-driven arm of addressable TV company Visible World, which Comcast acquired in June.

“It’s critical,” he added, “because we’re aggregating a lot of local inventory from the cable, telco and satellite guys into a nationally distributed footprint.”

Agencies and advertisers want to ensure consistency between different networks and cable groups in order to determine overlap or gaps in audiences.

“For instance, how do we verify households [are] ad insertable, ensure we have the right demos and make time zone adjustments for different geographies, if necessary?” said Janice Finkel-Greene, EVP of buying analytics for Magna Global, IPG Mediabrands’ forecasting unit. “There is no one right answer, but we need to have a solid baseline around inventory definitions [before] we overlay qualitative, proprietary or third-party data.”

Developing a standard to help answer these questions is especially necessary as more data and automation inform TV media buying, and because programmatic buying will grow from 4% this year to 17% by 2019, or $10 billion of TV budgets, according to Magna Global.

Programmatic TV buys don’t generally happen for primetime shows yet and certainly not in real time. Instead, it is largely relegated to local or niche, “long-tail” inventory pockets, which sometimes fly under buyers’ radars.  

Although the process for automation across thousands of cable insertion points is labor intensive due to technology legacies, there has been progress. Many networks enable post-buy reporting within a day – as opposed to weeks or months.

“I came from local broadcast and think we can eventually get to a point where we’re optimizing by geography and creative, in addition to network and programming,Finkel-Greene said. “It’s hard to put these pieces together when you have all this data and no means in which to normalize it. But there is a huge opportunity opening up through the whole programmatic mindset.”

Beyond defining thresholds for national and local market inventory, the Programmatic TV Standards Group seeks to unify variables around audience data.


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Buyers now seek to combine offline and digital data in a TV buy. Some buyers are fusing credit card data from Rentrak with data from digital and set-top boxes, while others are matching auto registration files with local TV viewership data through Nielsen Local Buyer Reach.

Adding to these discrepancies is the influx of data available through network-specific platforms (e.g., the Turner Data Cloud, NBCUniversal’s Audience Targeting Platform and Cablevision TAPP).

“If I’m looking for auto intenders using three different vendors, you run into issues around comparison,” Finkel-Greene said. “We prefer wherever possible to use our own data because we know we’re being even-handed, but we’re also not going to walk away from valuable research that can be supplied by the network.”

The working group also wants to push toward more comprehensive understanding of TV audiences. This is where MSA comes in. The company supplies post-buy reports for more than 100 cable networks to advertisers and agencies and marries those insights with Nielsen data to determine when spots ran and how many people saw them.

But even this system can be undermined by certain variables. If an audience is too small, it’s too hard to read. If it’s too large, advertisers lose specificity. Thus, the Programmatic TV Standards Group wants to work toward a standard for ranking different networks and dayparts based on audience composition, and account for numerous outliers.

Although Nielsen does not have set definitions for calculating audience delivery on a national vs. local basis, it has expressed interest in participating in the working group, as has the MRC, though it’s still early.

“We as an industry will need to set policies and rules of the road, so there can be rapid adoption of [data-driven TV] buying,” Horstman said. “We don’t want different network groups balkanizing their approach to using data and, consequently, slow the growth from the agency side.”


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