TV needs to tackle the 'share' culture

05 Mar 2018  |  Dominic Mills 
TV needs to tackle the 'share' culture

While addressable TV is the next big thing, old-fashioned attitudes to share have slowed television's progress, and will continue to do so unless they change, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: honest job titles

It’s the columnists nightmare: you come back after two weeks away and panic: “WTF do I write about?”

Not so this time, because there’s a positive plethora of choice: KFC’s response to its logistics shambles (admirable); Comcast’s decision to gatecrash the Murdoch/Disney love-in over Sky (battle of the egos - fabulous); more bad news from WPP (predictable - sort of); good news from radio - revenues up 5% to a record £680m (of which more next week); and the first specific analyses of agency/holding company gender pay gaps - like here - guaranteeing widespread industry angst and hand-wringing. Some of these will provide fertile ground for the future.

But let’s focus on good old ITV, which delivered a more-or-less expected and pretty humdrum set of results: ad revenues down 5%, profits down 9.6% and share price on the day down 6%. But, at least, it is forecasting a better 2018, suggesting that, after seven years of growth, 2017 may be a blip.

But it was an FT commentator who, in what I assume to be a reference to ITV’s much-expected foray into addressable, made me smile. “...Additional investment will also be needed in technology and data if ITV is to compete with the more personalised, targeted advertising already offered by its rivals.”

Why the smile? Well, he is absolutely right to mention investment in tech and data. But what he didn’t mention was attitude - specifically to share of TV spend. This is a pervasive culture - adopted both by agencies and broadcasters - that dominates parts of the media landscape.

From what I can see – and I’ve talked to both agencies and media owners about it (and let’s be clear, it’s a way of doing business that has historically worked for both sides) - it’s an attitude that holds TV back.

So while addressable TV is the big coming thing, antediluvian attitudes to share have slowed TV's progress, and will continue to do so unless they change.

That’s because addressable is treated as being in share, and as the biggest beneficiary of share, ITV has a vested interested in prolonging it. But as long as addressable is considered to be in-share, both clients and agencies are dis-incentivised to adopt addressable.

Indeed, from what an couple of agencies have told me, ITV has in the past got arsey - to the extent of legal letters - with both agencies and clients wishing to use addressable out of share. This was entirely within its rights and, I am led to believe, stood the test of legal opinion. (I should add that when I first started looking at this in January, ITV did not respond to my query.)

To get round this, agencies and clients have raided other budgets. Two examples: one, based on the idea that the ads used dynamic end-frames, the digital display budget was used; two, a retailer took money from its trade budget. Another alternative is for clients to go direct. But none of these is satisfactory or likely to give addressable the lift-off it needs.

But without new money, and as long as it stays in share, the risk is that addressable just cannibalises existing spot budgets, which themselves may be declining. Of course, so long as it did not have an addressable product, you could see why ITV took this approach.

But looking at the wider picture, does this still stand up? The core of ITV’s argument has been that because it’s on TV, addressable constitutes broadcast, and therefore cannot but be in share. But is it really broadcast? ITV's historical positioning of spot broadcast is that it is all about mass, instant reach and fame. But addressable is by definition neither mass, nor likely to confer fame since it is highly selective and different households will see different ads.

Yes, there is a good argument that addressable opens up new revenue from the long-tail of smaller advertisers for whom ‘broadcast’ is otherwise too expensive, and for whom share is an irrelevance. Judging by some of the AdSmart executions I have seen, Sky has successfully mined this seam.

But I question also whether ITV is really set up to develop this potential revenue stream. By structure and attitude it is focused on serving half a dozen, maybe ten, big buying points. Dealing with small, localised advertisers, many of whom probably don’t understand TV trading mechanics, is a whole other game and likely a pain. That explains why Sky has outsourced some of its AdSmart selling to Johnston Press, although as that three-year deal comes to an end Johnston may decide it has allowed Sky to eat too much of its lunch.

Buried at the bottom of this Digiday UK piece last month on ITV and addressable, was an interesting quote from an unnamed agency executive: “We’d love to talk to clients in pitches about the way TV is embracing the future and not the way it’s sold in the UK.”

Quite so. But agencies (and to a certain extent clients) are also complicit in the share game. Price-competitive pitches (are there any other kind?) promise share in order to give the lowest-possible TV CPT rates. Agencies can’t screw those up by putting more expensive addressable options into share, and thus share culture is further perpetuated.

So there you have it. There’s more to say on this, of course, as addressable develops and more agencies focus on it, following GroupM’s lead with Finecast.

And there’s one intriguing possibility, which is that as addressable forces all parties to look at share, so the road leads to CRR. I was shocked to realise that CRR was set up in 2003 - which today feels like the Palaeolithic era. It can’t be sustainable much longer.

Oh no. An adtech company has employed a Chief Visionary

I’m torn between the enjoyment I get from adtech companies employing people with ridiculous job titles, and a wish that they’d just use more honest descriptors. ‘Head of Bollocks’, say, or ‘Wank Meister’.

The latest off the block is Sizmek, which last week appointed a...drum roll...'Chief Visionary’. He is Nicos Acuna, who may or may not be a visionary of genius. Nor is he any old futurist, but a post-modern one too - whatever that means.

For Nicos, there are two pieces of cheery news here. One, he is not bounded by geography. He can think global thoughts, unlike Microsoft which once employed a Chief Envisioning Officer (love that ‘En’ in front of the vision bit) whose remit was restricted to the UK. I imagine that anytime he ‘envisioned’ something that applied to the Eurozone or Asia-Pacific he was told to get back in his box sharpish.

The second is that Mr Acuna is Chief Visionary, the suggestion being that he has a department full of junior visionaries doing the hard work while he swans around doing TED talks. Still, if I was a client of Sizmek’s I’d want to know how much Nicos and his team cost, and how much extra I was paying as a result.

Anyway, I have a small request for Nicos, I’d like him to rewrite Sizmek’s boiler-plate description of itself.

This is it:

“Sizmek is the world’s largest independent buy-side advertising platform that creates impressions that inspire. In the digital world, creating impressions that inspire is vital to fostering relationships of trust with agencies and brands as well as building meaningful, long-lasting relationships with customers. Sizmek provides powerful, integrated solutions that enable data, creative, and media to work together for optimal campaign performance across the entire customer journey. The company’s AI-driven decision-making engine can identify robust insights within data across the five key dimensions of predictive marketing—campaigns, consumers, context, creative, and cost. We bring all the elements of our clients’ media plans together in one place to gain better understanding for more meaningful relationships, make every moment of interaction matter, and drive more value across the entire plan.”

Seriously? WTF are “impressions that inspire”? This is 126 words of utter bollocks, but changing it into something I can understand can only be, for a post-modern futurist like Nicos, a matter of seconds.

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