Facing pressure from US tech platforms, UK broadcasters’ battle for VOD heats up

The battle between broadcasters for advertising budgets in the U.K. is shifting from linear TV to video-on-demand.

Sky, ITV and Channel 4 are accelerating efforts to make their own VOD services more compelling for advertisers, and stave off the threat of tech platforms YouTube, Facebook and increasingly Amazon.

Since January, all three broadcasters have launched new ad formats, struck deals with ad tech vendors to build marketplaces and set up programmatic teams to manage them. They hope to alter traditional media buyers’ tendencies to treat VOD as a bolt-on to linear TV campaigns. That’s partly because VOD is less easy for agencies to measure in isolation. Broadcasters have begun to invest in ways to fix that.

Agencies have begun to shift money from linear TV to broadcasters’ VOD to capitalize on how younger viewers are watching more shows on demand. That flow of money into broadcaster VOD has become more pronounced in 2019 as advertisers try to adapt to the fragmented way people watch TV, according to four senior buyers interviewed for this article. Indeed, VOD shows viewed on a TV set jumped by 18% last year, per TV marketing body Thinkbox.

“VOD is becoming the battleground for broadcasters,” said Simon Bevan, chief investment officer at Havas Media Group. “The more supply of BVOD inventory that comes into the market, the more there’s going to be some cannibalization of linear spend into BVOD as eyeballs are migrating to new areas.”

There was a time when broadcaster VOD could offer attractive audiences, but not significant reach. Now, broadcaster VOD has hit sufficient scale that Sky, ITV and Channel 4 can offer serious reach. As a result, the U.K. VOD market rose from £302 million ($380 million) in ad revenue in 2017 to £391 million ($492 million) in 2018, according to the Advertising Association and Warc.

“Money will be moving based on the fact that linear TV viewing is trending down and BVOD viewing is up,” said Lawrence Dodds, communications and planning director at UM London. “I have not seen any suggestion that significant amounts of cash are moving away from more targeted media opportunities into BVOD.”

Demand for VOD among buyers has sparked an arms race among broadcasters trying to cash in on targeted ads. Previously, broadcasters haven’t been able to share the data needed to secure those larger budgets, however, as they haven’t had the partners or technology in place until now. That’s why Sky, ITV and Channel 4 have all brokered deals with data vendors and verification firms to open up their platforms to more scrutiny to try and prove they deliver a better product than YouTube and Facebook. Sky has even struck deals with Mastercard, Boots and Game so that buyers can use those anonymized data sets to target specific audiences.

“The richness of viewing platforms that we have can bring complexity, and if we’re not careful as both a media owner and as the wider TV industry, then that complexity is going to make it harder for advertisers to deal with us,” said Stuart Carnegie, strategy and propositions director at Sky Media.

Sky Analytics, which launched this month, is the broadcaster’s attempt to give buyers the tools needed to better understand and scrutinize viewer behavior. Pitched as a one-stop shop for campaign planning, the service allows buyers to plan, report and evaluate campaigns across Adsmart and VOD. For Adsmart campaigns, buyers get quicker access to pricing, for example, while they get direct access to campaign reports for VOD. Those sorts of operational tasks previously fell to the army of ad execs Sky dispatches to agencies.

“We’re pushing our broadcaster partners to offer more compatibility to compete with the online players,” said Martin O’Boyle, managing director of partnerships at Publicis Media’s trading arm, PMX. “It’s not to say the broadcasters are getting online budgets now, but they probably aren’t getting it at the scale they want and that’s because the BVOD product hasn’t been as capable from an advertising perspective as it has been for the other digital players.”

Eventually, Sky will allow advertisers to buy as well as plan their campaigns from Sky Analytics. Once a buyer has identified and priced the audience they want to target, they can place the order directly from it. Both ITV and Channel 4 are making similar moves to monetize their own VOD inventory within their own programmatic marketplaces. None of these marketplaces have been actively pitched to agencies yet, according to the four senior buyers interviewed for this article, but the initial response to the prospect has been positive.

“Agencies have long since stopped talking in binary language of TV and VOD, and now the focus is really on delivering platform-agnostic AV plans,” said Gregor Chalmers, director of AV The Specialist Works. “Clients want us to be as targeted as we can be, adding on new and exciting layers to our strategy.”

Viewability has been viewed as a quick win for broadcasters looking to create more parity between TV and platforms like YouTube and Facebook. Although viewability is less of an issue on TV compared to online, Sky and ITV are making it a big part of their push to monetize VOD. Sky has recently started to include Moat video score data in reports, while ITV will do the same with Meetrics once its own marketplace launches.

Regardless of the metrics on offer, broadcaster VOD is still seen as too costly to win larger budgets among some buyers. On average, the CPMs that aren’t targeted on VOD sit between £20 ($25.16) and £30 (47.74), according to the agency executives. Targeted ads on BVOD cost between £30 ($37.74) and £45 (56.61) on average. That’s a lot of money to part with for a video format bereft of the robust targeting and measurement employed by YouTube or Facebook.

“We’re getting to a point where people engage with BVOD regularly, which makes it appropriate for large-scale brand advertising,” said Richard Broughton, research director at Ampere Analysis. The advertisers BVOD players attract tend to be similar to broadcast advertisers. So while there is some competition and overlap with YouTube, Facebook and others, VOD has a slightly different group of advertisers, he added.


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