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GroupM's addressable TV outfit, Finecast, to find a common currency in the ‘walled gardens’ of online TV

GroupM has launched Finecast, an addressable TV outfit, in the UK

GroupM has today (27 September) announced the launch of Finecast, an addressable TV outfit that will look to improve audience targeting for TV advertisers by providing a single point of access - and a common currency - across most major broadcast players in the UK, excluding ITV.

The agency is building a so-called “global ecosystem” around addressable TV as it predicts the shift in viewing habits from linear TV to on-demand will lead 30 to 50% of the total market to focus on addressable in the near-future.

To help advertisers navigate the complex world of TV as it fragments across devices and platforms, Finecast will provide a single point of access for advertisers to target TV audiences.

It has inventory commitments from broadcasters Channel 4, Channel 5 and STV, set-top box partners Sky, Virgin Media and BT's YouView, and video-on-demand (VOD) access to Discovery, Disney, Fox and others. It’s live partners are currently limited to free-to-air service TVPlayer and STV, but GroupM promises that more are coming soon.

Advertisers will also be able to distribute inventory across smart TVs (as part of a partnership with Samsung), connected TV devices including Amazon Fire and Roku, and gaming consoles such as Xbox.

Finecast has been operational in the UK since November 2016, and has so far run over 150 campaigns with 74 advertisers, including Marks and Spencers, Ford, eBay, Sony, Vodafone, Comparethemarket and The Sunday Times.

It also counts data partnerships with Experian, Mastercard, mPlatform and Kantar.

There’s a total of 15 people working at Finecast, including Jakob Nielsen, previously managing director at GroupM Digital in the UK, who becomes chief executive of the new outfit, and Rich Astley who will be chief product officer. Kelly Clark, the global chief executive of GroupM, will oversee the outfit, as will Irwin Gotlieb, the global chairman of GroupM who conceived the idea for an addressable TV unit 10 years ago.

Helping broadcasters to safeguard advertisers

The idea behind Finecast is to help content distribution platforms and broadcasters scale their online ad sales, while providing advertisers with reach and narrow addressable targeting - a mix which Nielsen believes is “the future of TV”.

“[The shift to online] has implications for advertisers. Money follows eyeballs. Viewing is changing from traditional linear TV into these new devices where there are new players, more data-enabled, more content being produced,” he said, speaking at Finecast's launch event in London.

“If we don't go in and help the industry support players that develop strong content, our advertisers will have a problem [in the] long-term. Structurally, that rich content that brands are engaged with, that sees a higher lift, is going to be a challenge. If some companies come with just a data and technology approach, that will fail over time, and it will fail our advertisers. It is our job to help them as much as we can.”

Finecast stands for ‘Finely tuned TV targeting’, Nielsen said. It aims to provide the broadest access to content and supply; the largest source of audience data available for TV advertising; all delivered in a viewable, brand-safe environment; with a holistic view across devices and mediums.

Targeting opportunities offered by Finecast include:

  • Segmentation: taking third-party data sets from its data partners
  • Drive time/proximity: geo-targeting for retail, dealership and distribution locations
  • First party data: utilization of owned data assets
  • Custom: customized audience segments built on multiple data sources

On-demand’s ‘walled garden’

The idea is to help find a common currency where VOD has been a “walled garden”, according to Adam Smith, futures director at GroupM.

While addressable TV is not a new concept, it has been held back by a lack of combined measurement across traditional linear TV and all the newer platforms that video content is being consumed on.

In this space, Finecast aims to plug the gap that BARB, the TV audience measurement body in the UK, has been unable to fill by “not measuring this new world of watching TV on different devices”, Nielsen said.

Astley added: “There is a lot of viewing not captured by BARB and the distributors feel the pain of that. The more fragmented the marketplace is in terms of viewership the less credit there is in terms of eyeballs attributed to those platforms. This is a way we can help distributors by monetizing inventory that might not have been sold or selling it at a higher CPM because it is an addressable marketplace.”

Longer-term, Nielsen wants BARB to take over the cross-device measurement capabilities Finecast hopes to develop: “You don’t want to measure it yourself, you want a third-party objective party to measure what you are doing.”

Why launch in the UK?

Finecast is launching in the UK but Nielsen revealed it will roll out to “top markets” over the next few months. However, when pressed on which markets it is prioritizing and why it didn’t launch in the US - where the agency has investments in addressable tech companies including Visible World, Invidi and Videology - Nielsen was evasive.

“Right now we are focused just on the UK. There are obvious markets we are looking at but we don’t want to steal the thunder from these markets today,” he said.

Astley added that there are key characteristics to the UK market including; a “fairly strong” pay-TV market with “reasonably decent penetration” which provides a good base for ad insertion; a “rapidly growing” on-demand market; and an appetite among advertisers for a more unified addressable TV solution, which meant the UK has the right technical and marketplace ingredients to launch Finecast.

Part of the approach may be because there’s more competition in other markets. In the US, demand-side platforms like The Trade Desk are expanding their connected TV products, and digital giant Google, in April, made traditional TV inventory available via DoubleClick Bid manager in the market. SpotX has been making moves in the APAC region after partnering with Anypoint Media in Korea, while AOL launched an addressable solution in Australia in partnership with Multi Channel Network (MCN) in April.

It’s not the first time GroupM has launched a unit specializing in TV advertising. The first division, Modi Media, was launched in the US in early 2014, and specializes in addressable TV, hyper-local TV capabilities, interactive TV and digital content distribution across cable and satellite platforms and through connected devices.

Nielsen said Finecast is “taking a lot of learnings” from Modi Media, while a GroupM spokesperson later added that Finecast could essentially be viewed as the Modi Media brand outside the US.

ITV’s absence and first-mover advantage

Finecast provides advertisers with a single access point to target viewers across multiple on-demand, linear and live streaming TV environments, instead of buying across the individual offerings from the broadcasters themselves.

While Sky AdSmart - the biggest addressable solution in the UK market - provides advertisers with access to Sky, Virgin Media and Channel 5 inventory, Channel 4 and ITV are absent from the mix (however, ITV has not ruled out joining AdSmart).

ITV is notably missing from Finecast, which Nielsen blames on “technical limitations” that it is working on overcoming.

He said: “They need to have an ad server that can plug into our demand system. That is an integration that needs to be made and that ad server needs to be capable of doing that. Sky and Channel 4 have already gone on that journey, ITV is a little bit behind, but they are growing - it is a matter of time.”

But Nielsen is confident that even should ITV launch its own addressable product - as it said it would by May next year - it will integrate with Finecast to “scale” that product.

“They want access to all our clients. They can teach us a lot, and we can teach them a lot,” he said.

What’s more, it’s partnership with Sky is currently limited to on-demand, set top box integrations and does not include the linear sell offered by Sky AdSmart, which Astley explained: “There are limitations on their [Sky AdSmart’s] side in that their whole universe of users and devices is not fully available yet for ad insertion but they are working on that over time.”

Asked by The Drum whether other agency groups are looking at launching similar initiatives, Nielsen said “I’m sure they must be”, but was confident that it won’t be facing competition any time soon.

“This has taken us 3 years to launch. If other holding groups are not driving as aggressively as we are, it will take them a lot of time to get there,” he said.