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ABC and Magna Global Test Programmatic Digital Video Buying

Agency to Buy Digital Video Ads From ABC Using New Level of Data

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The Watch ABC streaming video app.
The Watch ABC streaming video app.

Magna Global has agreed to buy some digital video ad inventory from ABC this summer using a new level of data-driven targeting and automated purchasing, a test that marks ABC's first programmatic sales of digital video.

The eight-week trial, which will run from about mid-July through early September, is designed to assess the technology and efficiency of the system, said Todd Gordon, exec VP-head of U.S. investment at Magna Global, a media agency and forecaster that belongs to IPG Mediabrands.

It will involve inventory in streaming versions of top TV programming. But it won't include certain elements that are often found in programmatic ad buying, such as real-time bidding. Magna Global and ABC, for example, negotiated a price ahead of time. The companies declined to provide financial terms of the deal.

While Magna Global is making a relatively small commitment to the trial right now, it is working with ABC more broadly when it comes to applying data to its larger TV ad buy, Mr. Gordon said. And once the trial concludes, Magna and ABC will pause to analyze the results, with the ultimate goal of figuring out how to expand it over the long term, executives from both companies said.

During its upfront presentation in May, ABC said it was working with ad serving platform FreeWheel to make short and long-form online video inventory from ABC entertainment and news programming and sibling ABC Family available to buy programmatically. Partnering with FreeWheel enables ABC to let advertisers apply their own data to buy and optimize online video campaigns. ABC previously only sold video inventory based on age and sex, unable to identify inventory that matched clients' precise data beyond those measures.

"We want to make it easy and find a more sophisticated way to apply targeting and data in day-to-day business with us," said Adam Gerber, VP-sales development and marketing for ABC Television Network.

Magna Global has been vocal about its desire to modernize the TV-buying process, which still usually requires relatively manual steps like sending faxes and emails, and become more strategic and targeted in its ad buys. Mr. Gordon said ABC is taking the first steps in this direction.

"This is the first time a broadcast network is taking its highest-quality inventory and allowing clients to buy programmatically," Mr. Gordon said, noting this is part of ABC's overall strategy of incorporating data around TV ad buying.

Programmatic ad technology has been an important part of digital advertising in areas like online display, where an endless supply lends itself to automated auctions matching buyers with sellers. But TV networks still enjoy relatively limited inventory and the ability to increase ad rates, giving them less incentive to experiment with technologies that could loosen control over pricing and who advertises.

But their interest seems to be growing, albeit slowly. There's been some progress in recent months, with NBC Universal indicating it is prepared to sell inventory to select clients in this way.

And last year Magna Global created a consortium of TV networks, cable operators and radio companies include A&E Networks, Clear Channel and Cablevision to formulate a programmatic planning approach meant to help clients to buy TV and other media more intelligently.

ABC began talking to Magna Global about advancing the application of data in ad buys about six to eight months ago, before the programmatic test with FreeWheel was even announced, Mr. Gerber said.

ABC is in conversations with other agencies and clients for similar deals, Mr. Gerber said.

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