Amex: ‘Programmatic TV Is Still A Very Manual Process’

PremiumIn 2014, American Express boldly declared in an RFP to ad tech vendors that it wanted to programmatically transact 100% of its then $128.5 million display budget.

Though the statement was later clarified to be more of an aspiration than a brand-wide target, the financial services giant was one of several large brands exerting greater control over exchange-based buys at the time, and video was no exception.

Now Amex would like to make greater inroads into programmatic video and TV, but noted dated technology and scarce inventory are stymying growth in programmatic TV, specifically.

Although the brand’s agency of record, Digitas, is largely responsible for the execution, trafficking and analysis of Amex’s programmatic digital buys, its strategy is developed in collaboration across Amex’s internal marketing organizations and its agencies.

“Video is not just a way to drive efficient conversion,” David Szahun, director of US media and digital partnerships for American Express, said Tuesday in a fireside discussion at the Videonuze Programmatic Video & TV Advertising Summit.

As the global brand marketing steward for Amex in the US, Szahun said awareness metrics, such as consideration and “reappraisal,” another way to phrase a “win back,” is more of his purview.  

Programmatic video has enabled Amex to overlay its own data, reduce waste and foster double-digit increases in brand health.

“The biggest metric for us is connecting brand health to ‘Did I drive business and measurable ROI?’” Szahun added. “In general, programmatic TV is one area where everyone should advocate for smarter buying. We need a platform that connects reach and frequency across all screens and mobile [and over-the-top video] is still a huge question mark.”

Szahun sees the most demand and opportunity for what he calls “addressable, programmatic TV,” but it’s still largely a pipe dream for premium, national inventory.

“We secured spots programmatically during the Oscars last year, but it wasn’t New York or LA,” Szahun said. “It was local-level inventory.”

And while more technology vendors enable connections between the digital buy side and the television supply side, Szahun argued that securing premium TV inventory is far from fully automated. One main barrier: the legacy sales systems at the network level.

“I don’t know if I would call [the inventory] remnant, but there’s still a very manual process in programmatic TV,” he added. “There are a lot of companies trying to push into this space to fix these issues, and I think if brand dollars continue to support it, it will move.”

Although a number of large media owners and broadcasters, including Turner and NBCUniversal, are starting to supply audience-addressable targeting options, Szahun thinks transacting buys programmatically will require more of an about-face from the TV sell side, which has stymied growth thus far.

“I feel like the buy side has a lot more opportunity to plug in and play and test new technology, but it’s a harder ship to steer for the sell side,” he said. “Brands like us are willing to test and try programmatic, but … [I predict] it will be more cobbled together at first, with fragmented supply, before” television is fully digitized.


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