The theme was “It’s Consumer-First in TV Land,” which I really hoped the conference would pay off on. Why? Well, we know that consumer attitudes about advertising are not great at the moment. And why should the TV industry care? Digital advertising’s rep is pretty dismal, while television still fares OK. But if we’re not careful — with all the innovations in data and technology exploding across the growing number of TV advertising models — we could make the same mistakes in television that we made in digital: frequency run amok, brand safety concerns, ad personalization that feels annoying or downright creepy, or simply just putting too many ads everywhere.
The good news: Consumers did make their way into the conversation. A Turner executive rightly pointed out that Facebook and Google made it easy and attractive for consumers to use their platforms, and so people came, en masse, and kept coming back. But he also warned, rightly, that we all need to be careful, that simply “turning on the data fire hose” that’s now so readily available across the industry could be a recipe for disaster. So followed three days of discussions on ad load, ad frequency, relevancy, data, and the voice of the consumer from media buyers, sellers, and technology companies alike. Good. Because this group clearly — and repeatedly — acknowledged that we are an interconnected ecosystem which will move forward, or backward, together.
This group is ready for things to be easier for everyone, but they aren’t naive. These conference goers are the ones itching for, and pushing for, change within their own organizations and at the industry level. They want less friction in the buying and selling process, more operational seamlessness and automation, and a TV ecosystem that thrives. But they know all the barriers that still remain, from legacy infrastructure to siloed client organizations. So there was a lot of talk about the role industry initiatives such as OpenAP can play in moving things along. But the reality today is that, while there was universal agreement that OpenAP’s premise is strong, execution is still onerous (think calling up each OpenAP member to actually transact on that cross-network audience you want to buy) . . .
. . . which is a perfect segue to another big theme for this year.
A clarion call for converged buying. Representatives from most of the major holding companies bemoaned the fact that doing the very kind of media planning, buying, and measurement they say they want to do remains a huge pain in the rear. This felt new to me this year: this very real call for a more converged, platform-based model of buying digital and traditional media together. Their palpable frustration made me smile from ear to ear. Why? Progress inevitably follows this kind of buyer frustration. Noted Omnicom’s Jonathan Steuer: “TV is a platform, and we need to be able to think about it in a more granular way next to everything else we buy.” Or as Mike Law of Dentsu Aegis Network explained: “Trying to manage the complexity that still remains . . . understanding frequency on air, avoiding overlap, etc. These are real areas of concern. And the consumer doesn’t care [about our industry’s complexity problem].” YES! What he said!
But what needs to happen to really push this forward?
Marketers need to commit. Perhaps the biggest challenge of them all? Marketers, en masse, aren’t acting like they’re preparing for a new reality of what “television” advertising will need to be to meet the demands of their rapidly evolving consumer base. They’re waffling. As one senior TV executive noted: “The biggest issue is that many marketers are in it for the wrong reasons — they’re doing it to check an innovation box. You have to come out of an addressable TV initiative saying, ‘It worked, or it didn’t and here’s why.’ But they don’t.” They treat advanced forms of TV buying (whether advanced linear, addressable, OTT, or all of the above) as small, discreet, time-bound tests. That’s a problem. And the sad part is that we know that those who do buy these new forms of TV believe in it and want to do more of it. So why are there still so many noncommittal buyers sitting on the sidelines?
Be on the lookout for forthcoming research from my colleague Jim Nail and I that dives deeper into the practical realities of buying audiences in an omnichannel way. While the answer might be that it’s not a perfect process today, perfect here may be the enemy of good.
Or maybe the real enemy is inertia.
*It was a privilege to visit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico’s new charter school in San Juan. They are changing the world one kid at a time.