A view from Gideon Spanier

It's time to deliver on the promise of programmatic

No-one doubts that the future of media buying is going to involve more automation and fewer people.

The rise of programmatic trading – algorithm-based, real-time bidding for ad space by computers – guarantees that.

But delivering on the promise is a challenge that the ad and tech industries are still struggling with.

It’s not just that everyone has woken up to the transparency problems about ad-blocking, fake views, viewability, suboptimal inventory and "black-box" technology. Understanding programmatic is difficult, as Helen McRae, the UK chief executive of Mindshare, admitted with refreshing candour when speaking on the fringes of her agency’s Huddle event.

"People have not worked out programmatic," she said, referring to the whole ad industry. "In hindsight, we should have spent more time understanding the technology. When it first started, I’m not sure that ability or expertise existed inside agencies."

Programmatic has also suffered because too many people talk about efficiency, McRae adds, rather than how technology can provide insight and opportunities for clients who want mass personalisation at scale.

The onus is on media owners, not just agencies, to improve confidence and trust in programmatic.

So Channel 4’s decision, announced at this week’s upfronts, to launch its own premium video ad exchange to sell online spots programmatically, is a welcome step.

It means agencies will be able to target demographically on its on-demand service, All 4, across all connected devices – not just on mobiles and laptops but, notably, on shared devices such as the YouView set-top box, Xbox gaming machines and Samsung connected TVs.

The fact that Channel 4 is pushing programmatic matters because, as a state-owned broadcaster, it has a record as an innovator that operates with a higher level of trust than some of the newer digital media players.

Early results for pilot clients, including Microsoft and the UK government, are said to be good. Research by MTM and comScore for Channel 4 showed that its programmatic campaigns were, on average, 72 per cent more efficiently targeted and delivered 24 per cent more effective ad recognition than a standard campaign.

Jonathan Allan, the sales director of Channel 4, reckons programmatic ad sales on video-on-demand could double from 15 per cent to 30 per cent next year.

Sky, another UK broadcaster with a strong record of innovation, is also embracing programmatic with its Sky Advance sales platform that allows cross-device attribution and targeting.

Trust and knowledge matter if the suspicions around programmatic are to be dispelled.