Slowly but surely, linear TV buying is getting modernized

Networks like NBCUniversal are trying to “do away with dayparts” and bring linear ad buying into the 21st century.
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Juan Moyano/Getty Images

· 4 min read

Buying media on old-fashioned TV can sometimes be, well, old-fashioned.

Say you’re an automaker looking to reach viewers who are thinking about buying a new car. TV networks and media buyers have their best guesses as to where those audiences will be watching in the highest quantities, and might bet, for example, that those viewers can be reached in primetime for the duration of a campaign.

But if in-market potential car buyers are spending more time watching late-night TV as the campaign progresses, it’s not necessarily easy to simply move those ad buys from primetime to The Tonight Show. In fact, sometimes it can take a lot of manual rejiggering to get an ad buy back on track.

“Imagine a digital ad server where every time I wanted to move an ad, I had to call an agency and ask for permission. That’s kind of like television,” Ryan McConville, NBCUniversal’s EVP, ad platforms and operations, said. “We’ve been doing it this way for a long time, and it’s not working well.”

Some networks would like it to work better. This month, NBCUniversal unveiled In-Flight Linear Optimization, a tool for marketers that will enable them to shift their linear ad buys midway through campaigns to help prioritize reaching the audiences they’re targeting. The tool, codeveloped with Amazon Web Services, will use daily forecast data from companies like VideoAmp and iSpot in an effort to make linear ad dollars more efficient, McConville told Marketing Brew.

“The technology allows for a radical rethinking of TV,” he said.

Sign of the times

The tool is, in some ways, a long time coming. Third-party firms have for years offered marketers the ability to use predictive forecast data to optimize where to spend their linear ad dollars across networks and adjust those buys on the fly. And some networks, like A+E Networks and AMC Networks, have in recent years built tools designed to help optimize advertising during the course of a campaign.

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But for other major networks, the old ways of doing things have lingered for far longer, which has led to inefficiencies.

“We spend an inordinate amount of time micromanaging the movement of spots, and we’re not very good at actually delivering the campaign,” McConville said.

Times are changing, though, and many marketers are eager to borrow from some of the best parts of digital media, according to Dave Morgan, the CEO and founder of Simulmedia, an ad-tech company that has helped brands like Choice Hotels and Dave & Busters optimize linear advertising across TV networks.

“In the old days, we would just say, ‘We’ll just figure that out in the next campaign’” if a campaign underdelivered, Morgan said. “But people today have digital sensibilities. They want it now.”

Cashing in?

While it’s still early days for NBCUniversall’s ad optimization tool, Morgan predicted that the broadcaster’s investment may end up attracting more advertiser dollars, whether directly or by way of third parties like Simulmedia, which plug into NBCUniversal’s API in order to purchase ad spots for its clients.

More importantly, there’s a good chance other broadcasters will soon follow suit, if only to keep up with the competition, Morgan predicted.

“It is becoming the new table stakes,” he said. “I believe it’s just going to only accelerate others moving in this direction.”

For McConville, the development of in-flight optimization marks another step toward linear TV operating more like digital advertising.

“If you really want to get past this expensive, clunky way of doing business and you really want to get some more optimized, data-driven, automated ways of finding your audiences, we have to start thinking past dayparts and show-by-show planning,” McConville said.

There’s one caveat, though: Some advertisers don't mind the old way of doing business, McConville said. For now, in-flight linear optimization will remain an opt-in choice, only available if advertisers ask for it.

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