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Programmatic TV Is Here! - Ok, So What Does That Mean And Is It Any Good?

Expanding on this area of tech and data, when client and 3rd party data is incorporated in addressable and connected buys, questions shall arise over data ownership, privacy, and the legalities naturally surrounding the area

Believed by many to be something major broadcasters would prevent from ever existing, programmatic TV is finally here. So in this new area what are the benefits and limitations? Well before we get to debate, let's start with a definition of programmatic TV:

"Sold as impressions, using software automation and advanced audience data to create value."*

Ok, so not the most inspiring of definitions, but of those bandied about, this covers all the basics - automation, software, data, buying on an impression-by-impression basis. Whilst expect this to develop alongside the market, it's all there for now.

What You Can Buy

Under this definition it is believed that we shall be looking at 3 distinct products to buy on TV:

1. Linear - Buyers can't select individual households, but can select specific shows and regions and buy linear TV spots.

2. Addressable - buyers are able to purchase spots on an individual household level

3. Connected - Such as Apple TV or SMART TVs, connected to the internet ads can be purchased whilst benefiting from the mechanisms and data used in online advertising.

The Benefits and Limitations

One of the primary benefits is increased targeting - and consequently audience efficiencies. Beyond greater audience selectiveness through the linear model, in the UK whilst similar to BARB, addressable buys shall be modeled on a panel, the sample size is three million as opposed to the five thousand for BARB. The resultant accuracy in delivery to the approximate 112 audience segments Sky Media have prepared is a huge leap forward from where we've historically been.

As such the cynical digital bods can rejoice, with the pessimism over TV's unerring media dominance despite only mild knowledge of whom you're reaching now starting to be addressed. But don't get too excited just yet, as measureability is still somewhat of a question to be answered.

Though products like Sky's AdSmart analytics can report back on where your ad was delivered (they say "seen" but that's not necessarily true) and connected activations shall in time allow 3rd party tracking of delivery and interactivity, its still early days. Unfortunately for now linear TV shall still have to be measured through econometric modeling and brand trackers, though at least we're starting the measurement conversation. Areas like measuring ad viewability through cameras in SMART TVs? Dream on.

Expanding on this area of tech and data, when client and 3rd party data is incorporated in addressable and connected buys, questions shall arise over data ownership, privacy, and the legalities naturally surrounding the area. With no-one really coming forward with an answer as of yet, it is suggested that with agencies and clients chomping at the bit, just as how broadcasters moved into programmatic VOD you can expect it'll be they who dictates the deals. Consumers too can expect an additional paragraph or two in their yearly contract.

Another noteworthy benefit is that programmatic TV provides an entry to TV for smaller clients. Those that can't afford, or are still trying to justify multi million pound TV budgets will have a way of entering the space. This may mean you can expect every Tom, Dick and Harry will move their money into the medium, though making TV biddable in real time being way, way off means that the added competition won't ironically price themselves back out of the market. But it's expected that this is only a matter of time before this occurs.

Finally, there is also the chance that being bought on an impression-by-impression basis could lead to more universality of measurement and purchase across channels. Though there would be quite some modeling and analysis to decide on how to weight a TV ad impression compared to a social or display one, now moving to a cross device landscape through cookie translations, logins and device IDs, there is merit to the notion of singularised KPIs, measurement and optimisation.


Though still very much in its infancy, the tank appears to finally be turning and facing the right way on the media battlefield alongside its counterparts. Though you can still expect progressions in tech and measureability to be over years rather than months as you see with online, with the firepower of TV (perhaps over)reported by auditors, clients old and new will still be keen to get involved asap.

We're at the start of a very long road, but who knows where it might lead? The concept of video optimisation including TV is a tantalising thought. The main thing though is we've taken the first step. Let's just see how sure our footing is for the second.

Owen Lee

*N.B this commentary is a thought piece discussing the principles and opinions outlined in The Future of Programmatic TV is Omnichannel at DMEXCO 2016, with the definition of Programmatic TV taken from this.