"We’re on the cusp of something revolutionary," said Dave Castell, GM of inventory and partnerships EMEA at The Trade Desk, during a recent breakfast briefing in Soho, London, attended by more than 100 brand, agency and media leaders.
As much as 87% of UK consumers have access to connected TV (CTV), which presents challenge and opportunity in equal measure for the ad industry. Here are seven takeaways from the event:
"The reality is that consumers have moved far ahead of the advertising industry in terms of their capability," said Martin O’Boyle, managing director, partnerships at PMX, part of Publicis Media. "They can watch what they want, when they want, where they want. They’re also moving away from ad-free platforms for little or no outlay which is a huge concern."
A key issue is technological infrastructure, according to Castell. "It hasn’t been a simple cut and paste from the digital display world or mobile," he said. "But the pipes are getting connected and we’re all investing in engineering resource to make that happen with the desire that the consumer has a better experience, watching a more relevant ad in a premium environment like Love Island on ITV or a Premier League football match on NOW TV. The consumer demand is there and advertiser interest is there."
2. The opportunity
Lara Izlan joined ITV as director of advertising data last April and acknowledges the hurdles but believes the industry has "second mover advantage". She added: "It’s OK that we’re not there yet but let’s do it right and do it for the long haul. We have an amazing opportunity to shape those pipes and those frameworks for CTV.
"We will have missed a trick if we don’t learn from programmatic and automated and try to build something that is more robust, data privacy compliant, more sustainable, including defining what metrics look like."
Castell was even more bullish, saying: "We’re on the cusp of something revolutionary. We’re at a point in media history where marketers can bring that pure economic dream of programmatic to the fore – right place, right time, right user, right content and ultimately supporting a freer, more open internet and more premium content."
3. Integrate to accumulate
TV viewers have never had it so good with a proliferation of premium content on an array of platforms. But for advertisers the landscape is one of "huge amounts of complexity with different buying points and different data sets", according to O’Boyle.
He added: "We’re working out ways to knit all this together so our clients can reach as many people as possible.
"There are conversations going on – we’ve seen Sky and Channel 4 collaborate on AdSmart for example – but we need more collaboration in the industry. My one wish is that we would take a leap in acceleration to reduce that complexity."
Castell continued: "For 2020 to be the year of CTV, we have to make it easier for everyone in the chain, to aid the fluidity of marketing. On the content side, around licencing particularly, there are some very elegant solutions to help us get round the issues of competing globally as a UK broadcasting industry.
"We need to have that same ethic with regard to programmatic advertising and move away from the idea of creating new walled gardens. Let’s honour the idea of premium content and allowing people to buy fluidly through different platforms.
"The solutions are here now. Let’s experiment together. Collectively, we can test it and refine it to make sure the industry is ready."
4. Small is beautiful
Connected TV has opened up television advertising to small businesses like never before, according to Graeme Hutcheson, Sky’s director of advanced advertising strategy. "The promise is there to help SMEs move into a medium they wouldn’t previously have considered," he said. "According to AdSmart, 70-75% of advertisers running addressable ads are SMEs which you wouldn’t normally expect on TV. There’s a lot of work to do if that is to become programmatic but it does open up the TV ecosystem to smaller businesses."
Izlan added: "ITV will soon launch its ad-buying platform and we are trying to change the legacy of TV buying in big ways. It used to be so difficult – minimum budgets out of reach of many companies and long planning times. The new platforms will make TV much more accessible for small and growing businesses. The addressability adds another layer of benefit."
5. Don’t make data a dirty word
Everyone wants data but there are different ways to use it intelligently, and sensitively. "Consumers don’t want to be reminded they’re being tracked all the time," said Alice Humphrey, European marketing director of Stella Artois, part of the Budweiser group. "It can be a great source for insight. It’s another way of understanding the consumer but at a higher level."
Izlan took the argument further. "When we talk about data we immediately think of hyper-targeting and hyper-personalisation. Data is so much more powerful than that. Addressability means you can learn about your viewers to help you plan your creatives and optimise what you’re trying to achieve as a brand over time.
"We have 31m registered users on ITV Hub and from that we have deterministic profiles that form our own ID spine. This allows us to data match advertisers' data to our first party data for better campaign planning and measurement."
6. How to slip through the Net(flix)
Ad-free subscription services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, might be the friend of the consumer but they present headaches for the ad industry. "It’s like a football team which doesn’t have a pitch to play on," said Humphrey. But she cited the partnerships between the Netflix show, Stranger Things, and Coca-Cola and Lego as smart ways for brands to reach those audiences. "It’s a move from interruption to integration," added Humphrey. "It’s an interesting time because we’ll have to think outside the box."
7. Music to my eyes
"What is the future of the ad-funded model for video in general?" asked O’Boyle, who believes that the rising cost of content may soon be too much to bear for the producers like Netflix. Indeed, Hutcheson revealed that Sky spends £24bn a year on content.
O’Boyle and Castell both believe that subscription services will have to be part ad-funded in the future which provides even better opportunities than linear TV with its relatively passive viewer experience. O’Boyle explained: "CTV is a ‘lean forward’ service where you pull down content. There will be opportunities some of which we don’t even know about yet. I believe the consumer understands that to get good content there has to be some sort of transaction. I’m very optimistic that we’ve only scratched the surface of this."
Castell sees music streaming service Spotify as the model with tiered options including free or low-cost ad-funded content. He also cited the resurgence in audio consumption, particularly podcasts and the acceptance that such content will be sponsored in some form. "We’re just at the start of what’s possible," he said.