‘Doesn’t really sit anywhere’: Connected TV is up for grabs between TV and digital ad buyers

Connected TV ad buying largely mirrors traditional TV’s direct buying model. For now. But as connected TV platforms and ad tech firms continue to lay the programmatic pipes for traditional and over-the-top TV, agency ad buyers are tasked with determining how to adjust to the growing overlap between TV and digital video.

Traditional TV ad buyers are purchasing TV networks’ connected TV inventory as an extension of their traditional TV buys, while digital ad buyers are picking it up as a new, more premium type of digital video inventory. That’s true within agencies as well as across the multiple agencies that advertisers employ.

“There’s a bit of fuzziness of who owns what, whether it’s [an advertiser’s] digital shop or traditional shop,” said Manny Hernandez, vp and head of display activation for North America at Essence.

Adds Mike Piner, svp of video and data-driven investments at MullenLowe’s Mediahub:“Connected TV is really the one channel that’s bridging the gap between digital and television. But it doesn’t really sit anywhere.”

Some agencies have gotten a head start on the convergence between TV and digital video. For example, RPA formed a national video investment team that handles everything from linear TV and addressable TV to “what we have coined internally ‘VOD+,’” said Lisa Herdman, svp and director of national video investment and branded content at RPA. For the agency, VOD+ encompasses everything from cable and satellite on-demand video to TV networks’ digital properties. “It’s anywhere that we can access video to place an ad,” said Herdman.

But now agencies are needing to adjust to new ways to access that inventory. Connected TV platforms like Roku and Samsung as well as ad tech firms including The Trade Desk, Simulmedia and Comcast’s FreeWheel are increasingly enabling advertisers to buy connected TV inventory across multiple publishers through automated ad-buying platforms. These platforms make it easier for agency ad buyers to purchase this inventory at scale, but it also makes it more likely that multiple people within the agency will be competing against one another for the same ad slots.

“You have programmatic buyers buying video across screens, including connected TV, in a platform as a self-service. Then you have national video teams buying cross-screen as a managed service through the salesperson delivering buys to them. That’s where the silos really still are and need to be broken down,” said Piner.

To break down those silos, agencies are looking to build up their knowledge of the programmatic space, particularly as it relates to TV. Agencies such as RPA are taking more meetings with companies like AT&T’s advertising division Xandr to get up to speed on the new methods of buying TV. Those meetings are unlikely to lead to significant buying shifts in the short term, but agencies don’t want to be caught off guard if and when a client earmarks a large of chunk of a TV campaign to be executed programmatically.

“It’s not that big of a chunk of the market or the money, but it’s absolutely happening. We’re not sitting back and saying it’s not going to happen for a while. We’re not burying our heads,” said Herdman.

Fuzzy claims about efficiency aside, the more that TV advertising can be transacted through computers, the more it necessitates human interaction, at least in the interim. Ad buyers have learned from how programmatic complicated display advertising. They want to avoid situations where their direct buyers are competing against their programmatic buyers for the same inventory, and they want to maintain a clear view into what exactly they are buying.

“We have to know exactly where our ads are running with each team that’s buying it. That’s become difficult because we’re all trying to aggregate impressions in the space and maximize scale,” said Piner.

Agency execs have run into situations where ad tech firms have pitched the ability to programmatically buy ads against new episodes of popular TV shows. Given how valuable that inventory is to the TV networks, the agency ad buyers were skeptical that it was actually available programmatically and questioned the ad tech firms, which proceeded to correct themselves that it was actually old on-demand episodes available programmatically.

Agencies are also having more conversations with their counterparts at media companies, especially TV networks, in order to mitigate overlap between their direct buys and programmatic purchases. In some cases, the agencies will ask the networks’ salespeople “to keep an eye on your inventory, and if you hear that Advertiser X is buying programmatically and we’re buying, give us that red flag because we’re trying very hard on our side not to do that,” said Herdman.

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