A view from Jamie West

Tech viewpoint on the evolution of TV

TV advertising has been through a vast amount of change since its creation.

During last month’s 60-year retrospective, it was fun to see just how far the medium has come. The oldest ads (including the first to be broadcast, for Gibbs SR toothpaste) featured a product with a short description of its qualities, but there was no way to ensure that messages would reach specific audiences, nor measure exactly how many people or who the ad was reaching. 

How times change.

Television has evolved ever since, but at a particularly extraordinary rate in recent years – to everyone’s benefit. Viewers can now watch brilliant programmes any time, any place and on any device they choose, whether via Sky Go, All 4, Netflix, Virgin Media, ITV Player or Now TV. Advertisers can choose to target the broad demographics at one extreme or custom segments using their own data at the other, and everything in-between. This means TV has far more flexibility than ever before. For example, brands can address particular consumers at various points on their viewing journeys or paths to purchase.

One consequence is that the TV set increasingly offers the best of both TV and digital worlds. Barb’s beta release last month of TV viewing figures from other devices is just one example: TV advertisers can deploy consumer data way beyond traditional viewing figures. Agencies can now plan and, most crucially, buy against TV target audiences by geographic location, ownership, household type and composition down to incredible levels of detail.

This is all possible through the use of Sky AdSmart, which launched last year and serves different ads to different households watching the same TV programme. However, you can have all the technology in the world but it’s worthless without great advertising to show. The definition of "great advertising" has expanded considerably now that consumers can be addressed so accurately, and ads don’t have to entertain the whole population by default any more. In today’s landscape, brands can devote more resources to thinking about how their messaging resonates with their core customers across different media and devices rather than worrying about how the wider public judge their ads.

I’m not usually one to make rash predictions, but it could be that the next major stage in the evolution of TV advertising will be the ability to better combine exposure across TV and digital to tell compelling stories across multiple devices. Would agencies and advertisers welcome that with beaming, toothpaste-ad-type smiles? We shall see. 

Jamie West is the deputy managing director at Sky Media