It's time for impressions to be the currency of local broadcast TV

It's time to modernize local TV buying, says TVB 's CEO

In the complex media world we work in, who doesn’t want things to be simpler and smarter?

Take local television, which for the viewer was once as simple as grabbing the remote and choosing from a handful of options, and for the media professional was as simple as using Nielsen ratings to measure those viewers. Today’s TV environment offers viewers a virtually limitless supply of options on many different platforms. As technology continues to weave its way into how and where consumers watch local TV, it’s imperative to be able to count the entire local audience, everywhere they view.

Simply put, estimating percentages of audiences (in the form of ratings) no longer fully captures the opportunity for advertisers to reach all viewers watching local TV. So, local TV broadcasters are undertaking a major initiative to transition away from ratings to an impressions-based media currency, the same type of currency network TV has been transacting on for years.

Local TV stations offer content to brands and marketers on primary, digital-sub, OTT and yes, even digital channels. It is time to consider all of that viewing in a consistent way, using impressions, so advertisers can mix, match and maximize their local marketing strategies.

An impressions approach fits with today’s smart media environment and the data is readily available.

Nielsen and Comscore, the two largest providers of demographic information for TV viewers, already gather and provide impression data for local TV along with data from other video platforms. And the buy/sell platforms make that data readily available for analysis and negotiation. That’s why local TV broadcasters have decided now is the time to coalesce behind this push.

“We see the transition from ratings to impressions as aligned with the consumer shift to cross-platform viewing, a shift we have taken advantage of to grow total audience,” Wendy McMahon, president of the ABC Owned Television Stations, told me when we announced the impressions initiative. "We look forward to enabling our advertisers to have full visibility of that local audience and to extending the overall reach of their messaging.”

Evaluating programs based on impressions instead of ratings can provide greater audience reach coupled with essential targeting.

Unlike ratings, which round audience estimates to create viewing percentages, impressions recognize total program audiences. Buying on impressions results in the inclusion of a greater variety of programs on media schedules, which takes advantage of broadcast TV’s reach and provides greater consumer targeting.

That helps to explain why station groups across the country, from owned-and-operated groups like NBC, CBS and ABC to major owners like Hearst and Nexstar, have made the switch. Other groups are committed to shifting to impressions in early 2020.

Counting every viewer helps both the TV station and advertiser identify and value viewers/consumers.

Take, for example, a locally aired syndicated program that generates a hash mark or near zero rating in a particular market. In a ratings-based transaction that program would be rejected by a media buyer because it shows an audience of zero. However, in an impressions-based transaction the buyer could consider the program’s hundreds, if not thousands, of actual viewers. For advertisers, those viewers could be valuable target consumers, providing a rich advertising environment that otherwise would have been missed.

We all know the world of streaming services is exploding, and more and more TV station groups, including Cox, Hearst, Nexstar and Tegna, are part of that explosion, launching ad-supported OTT content. That video content often provides highly-targeted, consumer-rich advertising environments with quantifiable impressions, excellent reach and … low ratings. Impressions-based buying opens a treasure chest of opportunities to advertisers.

Moving to impressions will enhance the benefits of Automated TV which takes the friction out of the local TV buy/sell process and paves the way for greater use of audience data.

Buy/sell system interoperability is advancing quickly in local broadcast TV through industry-wide participation in the TIP Initiative (a group of broadcasters who’ve partnered to streamline ad transactions via open interfaces).

Soon, buyers and sellers will be adding shopper- and consumer-preference data to today’s demo-based impressions, and the exchange of that data will be enabled by TIP APIs. Along with advances in data will come the opportunity for buyers and sellers to determine more precise relative value of impressions by platform.

As Jordan Wertlieb, president, Hearst Television, pointed out at TVB’s Forward Conference in September: “Because we’re going to an impressions-based environment doesn’t mean we think all Impressions are the same. Nothing beats the reach, power and trust of Local Broadcast TV.”

Major media shops have begun using impressions for their local investments and several more are in the process of making the move.

According to TVB’s September poll of media agencies, 81% said they plan to move to impressions-based buying by the end of 2020. Notably, IPG’s Magna and Dentsu Aegis Network’s Carat have already made the move. Though not every step of the way has been easy for local buyers and planners, they too see the value in dealing with real numbers of viewers and potential customers rather than ratings.

Jennifer Hungerbuhler, executive vice-president, managing director, local video and audio investment for Dentsu Aegis, told TVNewsCheck recently, impressions “allow us to look at a larger program selection locally, which ultimately increases targeting abilities as well as overall reach. It also allows us to equally measure viewing across all platforms and markets.”

With local broadcast TV on an impressions-based currency, advertisers will get to make the biggest impression on their most important consumers. Impressions make it easier for local TV to be part of multi-platform campaign planning. With impressions everyone wins — and our local TV biz lives become smarter and simpler.

Steve Lanzano is president and chief executive officer of the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB), a trade group that represents more than 800 TV stations, broadcasters and advertising sales reps.

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