National Programmatic TV…Not Yet

written by Samantha Stecker, Senior Director of Media Strategy Innovation


The worst thing to happen to Programmatic TV, was calling it Programmatic TV.

Programmatic is a digital construct based on real-time bidding, end-to-end technology, and 1:1 person-level targeting/delivery, in an ecosystem with an unlimited inventory supply.  None of which apply to Linear TV.

“Programmatic TV” is linear TVs’ long-overdue attempt to evolve into the Digital Age.  But at the end of the day, it’s index-based planning and buying against advanced audiences.  It allows for buyers and brands to replace targets previously defined by age/gender and create more strategic targets based on behavior, psychographic and purchase data.  However, the inventory is still delivered the same way: to a national footprint, at the household level, with limited inventory.

With the increased fragmentation and erosion of linear TV viewership, networks have quickly adopted the promise (and nomenclature), of Programmatic TV, developing sophisticated audience-based buying tools and platforms.  Key national players in the space include Discovery’s Engage product, Turner’s Audience Now, and NBCU’s Audience Targeting Platform (ATP).  All of which have been quick to highlight the opportunity to provide viewers with a more relevant TV viewing experience and brands with more sophisticated targeting and reach (oh, and to better monetize their inventory in a growing digital- and addressable- world).

Over the past few years, Ocean Media has successfully leveraged Programmatic TV in the local space, especially with demand yielding less inventory at significant premiums in the National Scatter marketplace.  By leveraging technology to aggregate unsold local cable and broadcast inventory, Ocean has been able to drive efficient incremental reach, although with limited opportunity to measure performance.  Shifting the Programmatic TV opportunity from Local to National solves for this.

In its continued pursuit to evaluate these emerging media opportunities, Ocean Media set-out to test the promise of National Programmatic Linear TV:

  • Does PTV improve targeting and drive more efficient reach to a higher-value target?
  • Does that audience-based targeting drive improved performance?

After testing across multiple ecommerce clients with various National TV media partners, data providers and attribution-based measurement solutions, the answer appears to be: Not Yet.

The A/B test structures were simple: execute a traditional “BAU” media plan, at the same time as a “Programmatic” plan, to evaluate how this new method of planning and buying media compares to the legacy system.

Ocean’s dedicated Advanced TV team worked closely with Media and Analytics to develop very structured testing scenarios, based in data, for clean comparison of the buy methodologies.  While the results were not all positive, a lot was learned to help inform future testing.

  • Reach: PTV products did not accurately project impression delivery based on fused data sets.  Prior to each campaign, Ocean estimated delivery against the strategic targets for both the BAU and PTV plans.  In all cases, the PTV plan either under-delivered the estimated impressions, or was less efficient at delivering the strategic target impressions, than the BAU plan.

In these tests, OM restricted delivery of the strategic target to Adults under age 55, knowing the heavy TV-viewership of the older segments makes delivery easier, regardless of the additional target qualifiers.

  • Volume: In every test, the PTV campaign delivered fewer visits per spot; not surprising given the more targeted approach yielding smaller PTV target universes.
  • Cost: In every test, the cost per visit was flat or at a slight increase.  Meaning any premiums on pricing for future PTV test would likely result in increased CPVs.
  • Response Rate: All of the PTV campaigns showed slight lifts in Response Rate, however the lift was observed against both the A25-54 and the Strategic Target Impression delivery.  Meaning, it was likely driven by the diversification of the PTV campaign across networks/dayparts yielding higher overall and unique reach than the BAU comparisons.

Based on Ocean’s proprietary immediate-response measurement solution: MAP, with mixed results from newer secondary ACR measurement partners.

Besides the industry hopefully revisiting the name, “Programmatic TV,” it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.  It’s a way for networks to continue to better monetize their inventory, and will be critical in an ever-evolving digital world and with the growing addressable solutions in linear TV.  Brands and agencies that don’t apply a data-driven approach to their testing and analysis will continue to report significant lifts and strong delivery.   Ocean Media has a dedicated team to explore, evaluate, and test these advanced TV opportunities and new ways to deliver on our KPIs.  In addition to continuing to leverage local PTV to drive Incremental Reach, and to test alternative buying methodologies (like Addressable TV), Ocean will continue to work closely with its network partners to analyze the national PTV results and execute additional testing to deliver on our client’s objectives.