TV advertising's future is here... it's just not very evenly distributed
A view from Lindsey Clay

TV advertising's future is here... it's just not very evenly distributed

We shouldn't overlook the advantages it already offers, Thinkbox's Lindsey Clay says in response to Campaign's Gideon Spanier.

TV is about emotion – as is the best of its advertising. TV makes you tense, it makes you smile, it makes you reflect, it frustrates you, it fills you with optimism. It often does several of these things all at once.

Thus it was how I reacted to Gideon Spanier’s article about broadcaster TV’s need to innovate. It stretched my emotional range. But Gideon is right: TV needs more innovation, more quickly. 

There is more to say, though, both about how far TV has come, how far it has to go and what stands in its way.

In technological terms, broadcaster TV viewing has come a long way. Even though most TV viewing today is still linear, this is changing. TV is being redistributed across linear and video-on-demand. The broadcasters have driven the pace to enable viewers to watch TV however they want. Very little TV can now be missed.

Broadcaster VOD has now come of age, as Enders Analysis recently said. Not just as a way to enjoy great shows, but as the best-in-class online ad environment. It is now a mass medium, it has high-quality, highly engaged audiences and it shares linear TV’s effectiveness qualities.

Yes, it should be easier to buy at scale. Yes, it would be ideal if all BVOD and linear TV could be measured together as one. But these are not insurmountable tasks and the broadcasters, following the recent trend of increased collaboration, are in active discussions about every area in which TV can be improved for its buyers. Watch those spaces.

This is the nub of the issue: TV viewing has been digitally transformed; TV advertising is transforming. Obviously, the advertising cart couldn’t go before the viewing horse, but it is time it caught up. No-one is more aware of this than the broadcasters.

But as we readily admit to wanting more, let’s not overlook what we have. To misquote William Gibson: TV advertising’s future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

Advanced TV advertising is advancing. TV is increasingly advertising’s Swiss army knife, with roles at every stage of the funnel. Yes, brand-building through mass reach, but TV can now surpass online for targeting – and with the distinct advantage of being a high-quality, proven, brand-safe environment with incredibly high view-through rates. And, crucially, TV’s advanced solutions are fuelled by willingly given first-party data. In the post-cookie future, TV is well-placed to take the biscuit.

Imagine the possibilities of TV’s ad inventory made addressable at scale. It is already happening with Sky’s AdSmart now in Virgin homes and coming to Channel 4; it is happening with ITV and Amobee. When TV becomes a mass addressable medium – and it is a when, not an if – no other addressable audiovisual ad offering will come close.

As well as giving advertisers more of what they want, advanced TV advertising also means TV will attract spend from other media. Getting on TV is becoming ever easier and the broadcasters are dedicated to making TV advertising available to all. From AdSmart – which has encouraged 1,000 businesses to use TV for the first time – to the range of opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises on the ITV Hub and All 4, and funding initiatives such as UKTV Ventures, TV’s increasing flexibility means it is available to businesses of all sizes.

However, the ability to innovate is not solely in broadcasters’ hands. Or, rather, those hands are tied by external factors that hamper the pace of innovation in TV. The most regrettable example of this is when regulators blocked a joint VOD platform, Project Kangaroo, in 2009, denying broadcasters immense first-mover advantage.

That TV is the most transparent and regulated part of the media world is a good thing. But it is a bad thing for innovation when competitors are not subject to the same strictures. For example, broadcasters pay to pre-vet every piece of content to guarantee viewer and brand safety. This is a competitive disadvantage when other video platforms do not. TV has been operating at a disadvantage for years, while newcomers have made hay in the unregulated lowlands. A level playing field would have helped. It still could.

We should also acknowledge that TV isn’t yet as flexible as we’d like it to be. It could make it a lot easier to give it money, for instance – especially at the last minute. Again, the broadcasters know this. Self-serve ad buying is emerging. How TV is bought and sold is on everyone’s agenda.

Broadcaster TV has a bright future. It is in the most competitive environment it has ever faced, yet it receives 69% of all video viewing and accounts for 95% of video advertising viewing. And we know that its advertising creates the most profit for businesses and is the least risky ad investment a brand can make.

So, what does the future hold? Exactly what Gideon is rightly calling for: more innovation. The broadcasters are up for and to the challenge.

Lindsey Clay is chief executive of Thinkbox

Campaign will be discussing the evolving TV landscape at the TV Advertising Summit in February. Click here for more information

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