TV Advertising Is About to Change Forever

What the TV Landscape Will Look Like Once It All Goes Digital

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The start of TV unbundling is upon us, with HBO and CBS leading the way, but we're not just about to see a new way to discover and consume TV content -- we're going to see what happens when TV advertising becomes fully digital.

Slowly but surely, a lot of the words we use to describe media and appliances are becoming rather inappropriate. We may use a smartphone, but the phone app for many is one of the least-used apps. We listen to the radio, but we do so from a tablet. We read newspapers from a laptop, and we're about to have watches that have little to do with the time.

Yet, we still align the entire world of advertising around these old-fashioned appliances and assign budgets to pipes that have little meaning. People now stream music, watch "Breaking Bad," and read the news, but the way the stuff they love gets to them is the least important thing. However, the pipe is what we've used to arrange how our agencies operate, what they make, how they define themselves, and how we get paid.

As of now, all media is now digital. We've seen the steady rise of cord-cutting and cord-fraying, aided by the growth of VOD, new platforms like YouTube, new devices like settop boxes and smart TVs, as well as the growth of original content from companies like Netflix and Amazon. We're not there yet, but when cable companies give in to the pressure to unbundle, like CBS and HBO did last week, we're on the edge of a world where everything TV is different. Soon TV just becomes a homescreen to video; TV channels become apps; and we'll see an entirely new mindset toward TV advertising.

The odd thing about contemporary advertising is that traditional advertising has always driven digital; for all the so-called innovation in the industry, all new ad units are merely reappropriated old media. Native ads are simply advertorials from the 1950s. Instagram ads are merely print ads with shorter headlines. TV ads form the backbone for every pre-roll video, and banner ads are identical to newspaper ads from the 1700s.

For the first time ever, we will soon see digital techniques shaping TV advertising. When we boil it down to simple elements, we will have a massive screen, video files that people want to watch, and the chance to insert other video units before, during and after said units. This is a whole new world.

The new TV advertising landscape will include the following:

Audience buying

We've always bought shows and channels as a proxy to people, but now we can merely buy against audiences. What may start out as buying loose demographics could soon become tighter addressable TV-like solutions where you buy a household. Layer in more data like payment data, behavioral data and search history, and we could see a move toward super-targeted ads at home.

Connected calls to action

The campaign architecture for TV ads has for the last few years been to drive traffic to a website or to a "like" on Facebook. When TV ads are connected to the internet, we could see a whole new range of calls to action; from the boring "follow X brand on Twitter" to "add to Amazon basket," or even more engaging things like adding a location to Google maps or downloading a mobile voucher.

Flow advertising

We've always thought about integrated campaigns as campaigns that look the same and make sense across different media. When we have platforms like Facebook's Atlas that allow cross-device advertising, we can start to think of campaigns as seamless communications across devices, that work together to tell a story and change behavior. When TV, mobile, tablet and desktop all become potential screens that act together, we can imagine refocusing campaigns around the notion of moving people from upper- to lower-funnel activities and then closing the loop with a purchase.

Personalized advertising

Ads that are served at a local level by your settop box are positioned perfectly for ads that are served and made in real time, based on hyper-local and personal information. At its most simple, ice-cream ads can be shown when it's hot, or ads for luxury items on days the stock market performs well -- but what's more powerful is the notion of ads served out to your household on an individual basis. Real-time special offers, showing local stores, or ads for products that remain stuck in your Amazon wish list.

Digital advertising is about to be the only form of advertising, and over the next five years we're going to finally see the promise of big data move us toward thinking about consumers and not pipes -- about how to seduce and not interrupt. The implications for privacy are massive, and the future won't come all at once, but we're on an exciting path toward reimagining advertising based on what technology really means. Put down your drones -- now this gets real.

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