How Sling TV is tackling programmatic TV ads

If true programmatic advertising comes to TV, it’s going to be led by internet-based TV services like Dish Network’s Sling TV because they have the technology to make it happen.

Today, Sling TV is adding to its programmatic TV business by also bringing addressable advertising into the fold. Previously, whether it was for ads sold directly or through automation, Sling TV allowed marketers to target based on daypart, genre of content and broad age and gender demos — just like regular TV. Now, advertisers can find Sling TV subscribers across specific customer segments common to internet advertising such as “vacationers,” “auto-intenders” and — later this summer — “back-to-school.” The segments will be available on SpotX’s platform.

This comes a little more than a month after Sling TV introduced its first programmatic TV offering, which allows advertisers to access live, linear and on-demand Sling TV inventory through private auctions set up with sell-side vendors such as SpotX. Sling TV’s offering includes contextual auctions, such as a March Madness-themed one that allowed advertisers to bid on live games as well as linear and on-demand programming tied to the college basketball tournament.

“The two biggest sweet spots that [Dish Network] specializes in are addressable — which has been a hockey-stick business for us the past six, seven years — and programmatic,” said Adam Lowy, director of advanced TV and digital sales for Dish Media Sales and Sling TV. “We can also do this in the digital space with Sling TV.”

Sling TV is Dish Network’s effort to offset cord-cutting by offering customers a skinny bundle of 30 TV channels, including ESPN, AMC and CNN, for $20 per month. (There are add-on packages with more channels that can drive the price up.) Launched two years ago, the service reportedly has more than a million paying subscribers.

To sell programmatic and addressable inventory, Sling TV is using the anonymous information it collects about its paying customers, which it knows more about beyond age and gender information. It then matches this data with consumer browsing and spending history collected by Acxiom to create custom segments.

Like other pay-TV distributors, Sling TV has access to a percentage of video ad inventory across live, linear and on-demand content distributed on its platform. There are two models at play here, according to Lowy: If content partners choose to measure by Nielsen’s C3 rating (which measures live and time-shifted viewing for three days after the initial broadcast), then Sling TV gets 2 minutes of video ad space for every hour of programming. If network partners are willing to dynamically insert ads, then Sling TV gets a percentage of inventory per hour. The percentages vary based on the deals Sling TV has struck with content partners, Lowy said.

There’s a fair amount of skepticism that the TV business — which has no trouble selling ad space on live and linear programming — will ever fully embrace programmatic TV. There’s more of an opportunity in addressable advertising, which brings improved targeting to TV. Here, internet-based TV distributors such as Sling TV have a clear path forward. They have the technology to bring more data-based buying and automation to TV.

“There’s a desire for TV to get to a place where it’s addressable and dynamic in the way the internet is,” said Alan Wolk, media analyst for TVRev. “But there’s also a fear that programmatic is a race to the bottom. Sling TV is moving in the right direction to find a way to see how [programmatic and addressable] can work in TV. The industry needs to see that.”

Today, dynamic ad insertion is available on about 50 percent of Sling TV inventory, Lowy said. The belief is that eventually every network on the platform would be able to offer this.

“The rollout is faster now than what we anticipated a year ago,” Lowy said. “But dynamic ad insertion in live will take some time — it can take some years to integrate.”

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