As viewers, you probably agree that we've never had more options when deciding what content to watch, which device to watch it on, or how to access it. Consumers are living in a golden age of television, no matter how TV is now defined.
The flipside for all of us working in the industry is that this New TV landscape has massively increased the complexity for both advertisers and media companies. Enabling brand marketers to plan and execute a single buy to reach their target audience, across all screens, with proof of performance, in a consistent and scalable manner is simple in concept, but highly complex in reality.
Behind the scenes, the industry is grappling with a combination of technical, operational, business model, and measurement challenges that are only becoming more acute as convergence accelerates between linear TV and digital video on one axis and direct-sold and programmatic on the other. Navigating this convergence successfully means combining the best attributes of linear television (reach, quality, transparency, and engagement) with the best of digital (data, addressability, attribution, and ease of buying) — and, by doing so, realize new value for the industry.
For media companies, the path forward isn't easy. It means pivoting to new business models while, in parallel, maximizing the value of the core legacy business. And, simultaneously, it means navigating the challenges of convergence not just within a company's own walls, but also in collaboration with peers and traditional competitors across the industry. If brand marketers can execute in a consistent way with the major tech platforms, the expectation is that they should be able to do the same across television. However hard the path forward, the vision of "television as a platform" should be viewed as a strategic imperative if the industry is going to successfully grow share relative to those looking to disrupt it.
Although we're still in the early stages of what will be a multiyear transformation, the good news is the industry is making progress. From FreeWheel's vantage point, this progress is centered on addressing three core pillars that set the foundation for brand marketers looking for quality scale, sophisticated campaign targeting, and simplicity of execution:
- Scale: When watching content, viewers move between screens and distribution platforms as they see fit; these details don't matter to them. But this viewing fragmentation has led to inventory fragmentation and, as a result, increased complexity in the ability to aggregate quality scale. To help combat this, we must make holistic management of digital video, set-top-box video on demand (STB VOD), and linear television seamless. This means the ability to plan, deliver, optimize, and report consistently and efficiently across a single pool of inventory. Although this will be a multiyear journey, milestones are being achieved each day. FreeWheel, for instance, is helping to build the connective tissue between linear and digital systems, which includes the foundational work we are doing with NBCUniversal and others to unify ad buying and start to deliver on the vision of marrying the best of digital and linear.
- Sophistication: The application of data to plan, optimize, and report on campaigns is enabling the industry to offer solutions at each stage of the consumer purchase funnel, versus television's traditional role at the top of the funnel. Buyers are increasingly able to partner with media companies down the funnel — from executing against broad demo-based segments to audience-based segments and, increasingly, to addressable audiences at the household level. As an example, on the linear TV front, programmers are leveraging MVPD set-top-box data for more intelligent audience-based planning, optimization, and attribution reporting.
Moreover, initiatives such as On Addressability are helping to bring household-level addressability to linear TV, as well as drive collaboration with partners across the industry that recognize the need for consistency of standards and operating protocols necessary to enable scale. In a similar vein of collaboration, OpenAP is improving the simplicity and scale of audience executions across both linear and digital video for major programmers, including Fox , Viacom , and NBCU.
- Simplicity: Solving for the challenges associated with inventory fragmentation and enabling sophisticated, audience-based executions set a solid foundation. In parallel, however, we need to simplify the ability to buy and sell at scale. This means everything from creating more direct connections between core supply-side and demand-side advertising software, both linear and digital, to improving workflow automation and the use of software to make it easier for new advertisers — for example, direct-to-consumer brands — to reach their audience on television.
Initiatives such as the enhancements within the Strata platform — announced earlier this year to bring additional automation to local TV advertisers and broadcasters — and Comcast Spotlight's launch of a self-serve platform for local advertisers are good examples within our company of progress on this front. If buying and selling across screens is hard, buyers will default to where it's easier. The digital platform companies have excelled here; TV must do the same.
Advancements in solving for the three pillars of scale, sophistication, and simplicity are helping to chart a course toward the full convergence of TV and digital video. But solving for the other convergent path — that of direct and programmatically sold inventory — is essential to removing another source of friction: the technology and workflow silos that exist between sales channels.
Our sell-side clients recognize the opportunity to maximize yield by enabling their direct-sold business to compete with demand, executed through programmatic pipes, all while ensuring the necessary controls, transparency, and television-level compliance. This means unifying decisioning between direct-sold and programmatic natively in the ad server, solving not only for digital video executions, but also setting the technology foundation for linear in the future. We are already seeing positive results on unified ad management, including our work with A&E , among other pilot clients, and remain focused on programmatic solutions that solve for the unique nature of premium video.
Our mission since day one has been enabling unified advertising management across all screens and all sales channels. It's still our mission today. As an industry, we are collectively solving hard problems that have not existed before. While we sit at a crossroads, we have a genuine opportunity to create a healthy, balanced video ecosystem that benefits all constituents.
The path ahead is not easy, but we need to keep moving forward. We need to focus on rapid, iterative progress — versus perfection — and deeper industry collaboration, making the platform of television scaled, sophisticated, and simple to buy.