The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

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By Jenni Baker, Senior Editor

July 12, 2023 | 11 min read

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Leaders from FOX, MNTN, The VAB, VaynerMedia, Wavemaker, Mediahub, Accenture Song, NBCUniversal and FreeWheel explored trending topics around premium video innovation and monetization with The Drum in Cannes. Here’s what they had to say.

Overheard in Cannes with Comcast

Industry leaders gather on FreeWheel Beach in Cannes to explore trends in premium video

The digital and linear worlds are converging across all media, notably in video – which was the talk of the Croisette in Cannes. But for today’s global advertisers to connect with consumers across screens, platforms and cultures, the need for a unified advertising experience is key.

Content fragmentation has made it increasingly difficult for brands and publishers alike to ensure a consistent, high-quality experience across all of the TV and video platforms on which they now serve advertising, putting the impetus on improving the quality and relevance of TV and video advertising.

That requires collaboration and connection – themes that were prevalent in conversations when The Drum caught up with industry leaders in Cannes. What’s clear is that with complexity comes opportunity to unlock the value of premium video – especially free, ad-supported television (FAST) services – through better data, innovation, automation and measurement. Watch the highlights reel in the video above.

A unified viewing experience

At the center of the advertising experience equation is the viewer. And industry experts agree that all parties in the premium video ecosystem – on the buy side, sell side and tech partners – have a responsibility to ensure they are creating the best possible experience for the viewer.

“We’re seeing more and more growth of FAST services, and that’s exciting because it’s the consumer signaling to us that they’re willing to watch ads,” says Katy Loria, chief revenue officer at FreeWheel. “They’re tired of subscription fees. They don’t want to mess with log ins. They want to access premium content. So, it’s important that we deliver a great viewer experience in exchange for these considerations. No matter where you are in the ecosystem, it’s a win win win if we do this right.”

As digital and linear channels converge, advertisers and agencies are increasingly seeking cross-platform plans that give them the ability to buy wholistically. As the primary owner of the audience experience, premium video publishers have an opportunity to “provide the best advertising, the best buying and planning, and the best user experience across all platforms,” says Darren Sheriff, vice-president, advertising technology solutions at FOX.

“What we’re trying to do is have a comparable advertising experience providing a cross-platform opportunity that brings the best of both worlds together. We want to make sure we’re bringing the [data enablement and addressable] benefits that digital and connected TV offer into the linear world, and vice versa, and not taking some of the mistakes with linear back over to digital,” Sheriff continued.

Storytelling at scale

As audiences shift to streaming platforms and streaming becomes a key component of media plans, there’s a responsibility on the buy side too. As Adam Puchalsky, global head of content at Wavemaker, explains: “There’s an expectation that entertainment is funded by ads. If it’s beautiful storytelling, the audience will be there. It’s on us to make sure that the brand is authentically a part of the narrative without turning the audience off.”

And better ads lead to better performance. “We need to do a better job of building the foundation to get to true reach frequency optimization across screens and channels, because that will lead to less ads, and better ads, with better performance,” says Michael Piner, executive vice-president, advanced advertising at Mediahub. “If we’re able to do that, optimize for the consumer experience, by knowing how many times we’ve reached a consumer across multiple screens, we can really unleash the power of creative ad tech.”

“As you think about the evolution of these platforms and the ability on a connected TV device to get way more targeted with the content... the content of the advertising can get much better (and scale faster) than it has been classically,” adds John Terrana, chief media officer at VaynerMedia. “You don’t have to produce one 30” TV spot, you can be out testing and learning, understanding what people actually want to see and then scaling really quickly on connected televisions.”

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Prioritizing programmatic

While there’s lots of promise for programmatic CTV to support this scale, there are still challenges to solve. One of the biggest hurdles to scaling programmatic is how metadata is passed between partners including both the quality and the need to do so in consumer privacy safe manner.

“There are some technical hurdles that we need to solve to make programmatic that’s built for TV rather than take programmatic built for the web and make it work for TV,” says David Dworin, chief product officer, FreeWheel. “We want to work with partners throughout the ecosystem to really make sure that the promise of programmatic delivers the right value for advertisers and publishers for everything from transaction models to respecting privacy and identity, to making sure it executes at scale for all of the unique facets of connected television.”

With a greater focus on data, enabled by technology, advertisers can benefit from the flexibility, control, ability to optimize through multiple channels and aggregate reporting at speed.

“We’re at a point now where there’s almost not a distinction between CTV and linear advertising,” said Mark Douglas, founder and chief executive officer of MNTN. “We’ve crossed that point. It’s like mobile years ago, it’s just a device in their pocket. That’s where they are with CTV, it’s just a standard mix of every budget. Local video advertising is making a comeback. The biggest opportunity is to bring smaller companies into television advertising. Google and Facebook have millions of advertisers. That’s what we need to do for television and democratize it so that any size brand can access the medium.”

Unifying supply

In premium video, there is more demand than supply available for reaching audiences at scale. One of the largest pools of untapped inventory is local TV – where audiences have a strong relationship to programmers. However, accessing that inventory, across markets and countries, wasn’t easily accessible. That is, until now.

To address the fragmentation in the video ecosystem, NBC’s announcement on the expansion of its One Platform into global markets, powered by FreeWheel, marks a major step forward in unifying supply to make transacting at multi-market level much easier, allowing advertisers to combine the scale, targeting ability and premium value of content on a localized level.

“For a marketer wanting to transact on the multimarket level, it’s quite difficult because there’s a lot of friction in the system; it’s very fragmented,” says Maggy Chan, managing director and executive vice president, global advertising and partnerships, NBCUniversal. “We’re unifying that supply to be able to make that access easier. And it’s not just any supply, because local broadcasters and publishers have massive appeal with their audiences. Those audiences are very local to them, they really understand that content, they’re very attached to it and that has huge value for marketers.”

“TV is evolving – it’s an interesting juncture right now for premium video buyers and premium video publishers,” said Thomas Bremond, senior vice president and general manager, international, at FreeWheel. “The key right now is to be able to transition to new methods of buying, new currencies and new models. Fragmentation and the appearance of global streamers has made it more challenging for local players to aggregate this scale. By pooling the supply together from multiple like-minded broadcasters and publishers, broadcasters can compete with new platforms that have come into market with advertising propositions and really offer quality at scale for the buyers.”

A year from now

Looking ahead to the future in the premium video space, experts see a huge growth opportunity for publishers and advertisers with regards to creativity and effectiveness, a shift to more live viewing in CTV, lower barriers of entry for smaller local businesses and great strides in terms of measurement.

“What’s driving all this change is enabling the consumer experience, endless choice and personalization and getting to a place where we’ve got true optionality and interoperability with respect to world class providers,” says Sean Cunningham, president and chief executive officer of The VAB. “Being able to make that same progress with respect to identity and understanding that as we go from demography to identity, that enables us to really understand the outcome. I see the continuation of the exponential math of what has progressed in the last two years.”

“As an industry, it’s important that we collectively work towards better advertising for the consumers benefit, more purpose-built solutions and products that can deliver better advertising experiences,” said Amir Malik, managing director, growth marketing at Accenture Song. “This will benefit everybody from the brands, the middleman right down to the agencies, and even the publishers and broadcasters themselves. There’s more intelligence that needs to go into advertising, and I think there’s going to be more emphasis on quality supply and quality inventory.”

Working better together across the ecosystem at the foundational level, to drive a quality viewing experience powered by technology that enables direct connections between buyers and sellers, will be key to unlocking innovation and investment in premium video.

Catch up on highlights from our ‘Overheard in Cannes’ video series, in partnership with FreeWheel, in the video above and on The Drum TV.

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