Audience vs. Environment: Will Data-Driven Buying Tip Debate?

Expect Targeting to Always Be Secondary, Particularly When It Comes to TV

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Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan

Over the next few years, we are going to see a number of web-like technologies and business models come to TV advertising. Among them will be the data-driven buying of TV audiences at a level of granularity that was heretofore only available online. In that world, TV buyers and sellers will have the ability to use data and more robust targeting to "separate people from programs," not unlike how web technologies have enabled online buyers and sellers "separate people from pages."

I'm CEO of one of those companies, Simulmedia, and how this all shakes out ultimately is anyone's guess. But I believe that we are going to see it, and I also believe that as audience-centric TV media buying grows, so too will the din of the decades-old debate about the value of audience vs. environment in media. Having spent the past 17 years helping develop targeted-ad technologies and run targeted ad networks, you might think that I believe that reaching the right people with your ads trumps the context where you reach them. Well, it might surprise you, but I don't. I believe that tight audience targeting will always be secondary to being in the right media environment, particularly when it comes to TV. Here is why:

Not mutually exclusive. It doesn't have to be one or the other. Audience and environment are not mutually exclusive. Trying to reach certain target audiences at a high concentration doesn't, and shouldn't, mean that one is agnostic to the environment and the context of the programming. Better control over audience targeting and audience packaging should actually mean that TV media buyers can have their cake and eat it, too -- reaching the right target audiences in the right environments.

Mass awareness advertisers need program-centric buying. For most mass awareness TV advertisers, it is impossible for them to reach their target audiences at any kind of scale without building the foundation of their media plans around specific programs with large audiences that are closely aligned with that target . For example, if a movie studio wants a chance to open a broad-release film well, it needs to reach 80% of likely filmgoers at least a half-dozen times in the two weeks preceding the premiere. It is not possible to do that cost-effectively without leaning heavily on program-specific buys of highly-rated shows that can generate the required base level of reach and frequency.

Audience buying complements, doesn't replace, context. The place where TV media buyers have a big problem is how, once the "must-buy" shows are locked-in, they can cost-effectively extend the reach of their campaign against their target audience. Generating incremental target -audience reach without creating too much irritating frequency is an enormous challenge, and one that data-driven audience buying is very well suited to solve. However, trying to use audience buying to mimic a buy on a show like "American Idol," with its 20 million-plus viewers, neither makes much sense, nor would it be very cost-effective.

It's emotional. TV is an emotional medium. It is driven by programming, by context. Ignoring the environment that a TV show offers to an advertiser, and focusing solely and blindly on characteristics of the audience reached, ignores everything about what makes TV special as an advertising and communication channel.

It's religious. Since the beginning of TV, sellers and buyers of TV ads have focused first and foremost on the programs and the environments they offer for advertisers. It is part of the DNA of the industry and it is core to the value proposition buyers and sellers offer to their clients and owners. It works. It has been constant for so long, it is part of the religion of the industry. To try to change that too fast is to try to disrupt parts of the business that don't need disrupting. Adding audience buying to program-centric TV advertising will make the industry better. Trying to replace it is a nonstarter.

Evolution, not revolution. Certainly, we are going to see a transformation of TV advertising and the TV media eco-system over the next few years. Technology, data, internet competition, audience fragmentation, time-shifting, pressure for accountability and ROI, over-the-top video programming are all hitting the TV industry at once. While I am a big proponent that we are going to see change, I believe that the core media buying behaviors and practices are going to change slowly. Today, programming context and sex/age measurement drives the majority of the $68 billion that advertisers spend on TV in the U.S. It won't switch wholesale from context to audience. However, it is likely to start transitioning from a context-dominated process to one in which granular audience buying starts to play a part in the market.

Audience vs. environment in TV advertising? For me, it is clear, the primacy is environment. What about for you?

Dave Morgan is CEO and founder of New York City-based Simulmedia, a TV-ad-targeting company. Simulmedia uses data-driven technology to help improve the relevance and results of TV advertising.
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