Jon Block, recently appointed chief product officer at VIOOH and formerly of ITV, shares how programmatic tech is rejuvenating TV and out-of-home advertising.
On paper, my background is in TV. It sounds glamorous, right? At least, to those outside the industry. But in reality, my past is not so different from my present – I am in the business of technology.
As a software engineer, I worked on the creation of what is now the ITV Hub [which had a big announcement this week]. I then went into product innovation, creating forms of entertainment such as broadcaster smartphone apps. Later I moved into advertising innovation, bringing digital advertising to the fore in ITV’s commercial strategy – everything from interactive video to live dynamic TV ads and playing along on your smartphone with ads in real-time. Later I moved into the ad tech world, joining Videology before it became Amobee, but remained close to the TV world, working with many of the major TV broadcasters in the UK and around Europe.
This lockdown period has been an odd time to embark on a new career in a new industry. But it has been reassuring to find that OOH is a very similar medium to TV. There are many reasons for this. Both OOH and TV are broadcast mediums with traditional advertising roots. They share similarities in measurement methodologies – traditional panels mixed with newer digital approaches – and are undergoing the same shift towards impression-based buying. Compliance and creative approval are absolutely key: you can’t have the wrong ad playing in the wrong place. And, despite how powerful the advertising medium is, there are similar challenges in the application of data and modelling attribution.
The similarities between the mediums don’t end there, but one particularly pertinent question to my new life in OOH that I have been asking myself in recent months, is how much will the evolution of digital OOH follow the evolution of TV?
There has been a particularly interesting trend in the broadcast world in the last few years. The TV programmatic platforms have been subsumed into ad-serving stacks that are either owned by, or deeply partnered with, the media owners. Stickyads and Freewheel were bought by Comcast, SpotX was bought by RTL Group and merged with their ad server, AppNexus was bought by AT&T, TubeMogul was bought by Adobe (a major broadcast tech stack supplier). Even my old alma maters, Videology/Amobee and ITV are now in a very close partnership focusing on their new addressable advertising platform, Planet V.
So what has been driving this trend?
Primarily, it’s for the simple reason that TV and premium video inventory is constrained. There’s just not that much of it. And when you have constrained inventory combined with lots of demand, you have to care even more about optimisation because you have to think about how you’re going to sell your limited inventory in the best way. When it comes to optimising yield in a constrained media environment, it is absolutely critical to take into account all inventory and all demand – whether that be from direct sales booked into your ad server, or from programmatic demand transacted through your SSP.
And this is why there has been an inexorable trend towards consolidation between ad server and SSP in the TV world. To make the best yield decision, the media owner must be able to control the optimisation between direct-sold campaigns and programmatic demand in real time, taking into account all factors and optimising accordingly. If you keep the ad server and SSP separate, you can never maximise your yield management because your demand exists in two separate silos. Holistic yield management is as much the holy grail of commercial broadcasters as universal reach and frequency is the holy grail of advertisers.
One might argue premium OOH is even more constrained than TV. Where broadcasters can run some promos, commission new series, or put more mid-roll ads on their online video service, OOH would have to physically build a panel to generate more inventory.
A key question for us in the OOH industry is whether we are likely to see this same trend towards consolidation? As the programmatic OOH market grows, as we learn to apply new forms of data, and as media owners look to drive even more yield from their inventory pool, will we see the media owners look to combine ad serving/SSP models as they have in the TV world?
Lockdown and the post-coronavirus world is going to have a transformative effect on many industries, just as it has transformed all our lives. As someone who thrives on creating new technology, who loves nothing more than an algorithm, and who has devoted most of their career to perfecting new ad tech, it is an incredibly exciting time to be joining OOH – specifically an OOH company whose very mission is to transform the OOH industry, helping media owners, agencies and brands to harness the potential for out of home in this new world.
Jon Block is chief product officer at VIOOH