At NAB: What Linear TV Can Teach Digital

By James Ackerman

Executive Chairman, Broadway Systems

Do you remember that scene in “Back to the Future” when Marty (a young Michael J. Fox), having travelled back in time from the 1980’s to the pre-diet soda 1950’s walks into a soda fountain shop? The proprietor, Lou, brusquely asks Marty, “You gonna order something, kid?” Marty replies, “Ah, yeah. Give me…give me a Tab.” “Tab? I can’t give you a tab unless you order something,” a confused Lou answers. “Right. Give me a Pepsi Free,” Marty responds.  An increasingly annoyed Lou retorts, “You want a Pepsi, pal, you’re gonna pay for it.”

This exchange is analogous to the difference between the advertising marketplaces for traditional linear TV versus digital media.  Sometimes things merely get lost in translation, but often, like Marty, we have to step back in time to better confront the future. As we begin to see more television networks spin off from traditional modes of distribution, delivering their linear channels “Over-the-Top” (OTT) directly to consumers digitally (both together with cable and satellite operators, and independently of them) as well as increasing their offering of on-demand video content, there will be a necessary shift in the way video advertising is managed on-line. What may come as a surprise is that when it comes to advertising campaign management, it’s digital that will need to make the necessary changes in order to catch up to the ways of traditional linear TV if it is to provide the same or greater value.

Specifically, digital has to adopt many of the practices of linear TV including campaign flexibility, audience targeting and measurement standards. These are some of the issues Broadway Systems is tackling as we approach NAB. Companies such as ours are dedicated to enabling our clients to better manage their OTT networks in much the same fashion as traditional networks while working on some new technologies and implementations with third parties. That will in turn make it easier for providers of video content of all types to manage and accurately report the performance of advertising across their content through TV, Digital and VOD. And, fortunately, we have not had to build a plutonium-powered DeLorean to set these new technologies in motion.

Here’s a perfect example of what I mean: During a particularly busy recent news day, I visited a popular digital media news service featuring a substantial amount of video content. I watched three separate video reports and within each was initially presented with an ad. The first ad was promoting homeowners insurance, the second was offering an eco-friendly economy car and the third advertised a non-prescription medical product exclusively for women.  Clearly this digital media service had no idea who its audience was. Does this media platform really just run ads in random rotation against a target demographic of Adults 18-109?  While digital measurement and tracking can provide useful information on what my interests and viewing patters are, it can’t confirm who I am or my lifestyle.

This could never happen in classic linear TV. The presentation of video advertising that both engages and affects its audiences is both an art and a science. No network would just run ads against an unspecified target demographic without the ability to confirm which audience will actually see the ad or is watching the program in which the ad is offered. The art of engaging a consumer through a commercial break via linear television is an increasingly complex matter and advertisers expect all kinds of flexibility to tell a story creatively.  For instance, advertisers want the ability to present multiple brands within a break, control the frequency of messaging for any particular brand, and influence the content in which that brand is presented.  Furthermore, advertisers want some science in the mix: content providers need to be able to report consistently to their clients industry standard ratings and demographic measurability, ultimately merging patterns of viewership between their rated linear networks with their OTT viewership, on-demand digital and VOD.

This weekend, our Broadway Systems team joins other industry insiders, innovators and decision makers at NAB for what we hope are thoughtful conversations like this one.

James Ackerman is a seasoned executive with over 20 years experience in senior management worldwide at a number of  media companies including Documentary Channel, OpenTV Corp., BSkyB and A&E Television Networks. In September 2013, he was named Executive Chairman of Broadway Systems, a leading provider of software technology for cable television and IPTV networks. Broadway’s clients include Scripps Networks (Food, HGTV, etc.), Fox News, BBC America, WWE Network and dozens of others.

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to their colleagues followers and the public at large.  In their own words, they address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital.  Unique to cynopsis, Cynsiders lives on the homepage and is promoted across the daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at [email protected]


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