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Guest Blog: I Love TV ... Just Not The Way It Sells Ads

I love television, but … the upfronts may be dead. Shocking, we know, but hear me out. 

With NewFronts and Upfronts and every other front behind us as we are in full swing in the summer season, one thing remains resoundingly clear: brands are starting to realize there is a new way to buy audiences. Now, as the Co-Founder and CEO of an ad tech firm (YuMe) whose business involves a new way for consumers to experience ads, it can definitely be argued that I already have a new way of looking at Upfronts and NewFronts. However, they do not come without sound reasons and arguments.

Hunter Walk, former product manager of YouTube, once said, “Quality is a word incumbents use to marginalize new models.” Content producers do make quality programming and the good ones do attract large audiences, but the qualification of those audiences as “good” for a brand is still based on the “spray and pray” model, which says that if one reaches enough people, there are certain to be some interested in your product or service. In today’s overly fragmented and distracted world, this approach frankly has no place.

I love television, but “quality,” when discussing programming is a word better used to describe what networks produce, not the audiences programs reach. For far too long, brand advertisers have relied on gross demographic measures such as “women ages 18 – 34” to define their audiences when what they really want is, “head of household car-buying decision makers in car consideration within the next twelve months.” The former is a population descriptor, the latter, a customer, who brands actually want to reach.

So, if Upfronts are dead, what is taking their place as the kings of the advertising castle?

Digital has yet to bring much to this dynamic. While great at performance-based online purchasing, digital brand advertising has largely slumped back into the old habits of TV population buying. The “NewFronts” are anything but new. They present a way of buying specific demographic populations around owned and operated “quality” programming. What is the difference between Tom Hanks on Bravo and Tom Hanks on Yahoo? The only difference is that Yahoo is “digital.” No one is promising accountability that those ads will reach the right brand-receptive audiences. As an industry, we should and can do better.

We in the digital space have sold advertisers short on the promise of digital. It’s not simply another channel to produce a raft of new “quality” programming. If used correctly, digital is an environment that can distill a large demographic population into a reachable, brand-receptive consumer. (Imagine that!)

To do this, digital ad businesses need to STOP focusing on programming and START focusing on the quality of the software and data science technology. Crunching massive amounts of online viewing data to find brand-receptive and attentive audiences while using cross-platform software to reach and measure those audiences is where digital businesses should be directing their attention. We saw a bit of this at the recent Upfronts, but more is needed to really see the impact data can have on targeted advertising.

Data is really the key to the new method of buying. Without thorough data, media buyers will just keep purchasing the same audiences, without measuring how responsive, attentive and engaged those audiences are.  Some companies are tapping into that need. YuMe, for example, offers its Audience-Aware SDK as a proprietary tool to help brands determine those consumers who are receptive and attentive to brand messages – not just the ones that match their demographic criteria, but the ones that will actually pay attention to brand ads. Utilizing first-party data and data sciences, YuMe is able to precisely pin-point those that would benefit from engagement the most. Those that brands would want to reach.

According to a Nielsen report earlier this year, “TV continues to reign supreme with a 57.6 percent share of all ad spending and advertisers investing 4.3 percent more into the medium.” However, while average television viewing has not declined, it has been concentrated into a smaller and smaller population, meaning that television dollars don’t work nearly as hard as they used to--when attention was focused on relatively few channels of live or appointment viewing. Add to this the fact that media time spent watching television has been in free-fall decline over the past fifteen years as digital platforms have emerged to engage consumers 24/7 and on multiple screens, and brands can see where the Upfronts model falls short.

Consumers have turned their attention to online, and increasingly to mobile, tablet and Connected TVs. And they’ve done so at the expense of TV.

Ad executives are worried and they have good reason. As television programming and digital devices have proliferated, audience attention has fallen through the floor. The impact of ad-skipping DVRs was so far overblown that people missed the real attention grabber: mobile phones, tablets and PCs sitting in people’s laps. People are spending less time watching TV and when they do, they are tuning out commercials in favor of their own personal digital worlds.

So, clearly a shift is needed. Directional tools are often helpful to media buyers who might be cautious in shifting budget from TV to digital, and/or might not know how much to shift. YuMe offers its Reach Calculator, based on data from Nielsen Research on multi-screen reach and brand impact, as a way for media buyers to see a sliding scale of shifting advertising dollars and to understand how much their budget can stretch and how it can potentially be more effective when digital is added with the right media mix.

But commercials and ads in general are not dead. 

I love television. There still remains no better way to communicate the emotional excitement around a product or service than well-produced, brand advertising commercials. Commercials work. Period. Unfortunately, the platform they are delivered on is now fragmented and, quite frankly, dumb. Rather than mimic the failings of that platform with custom digital shows, digital businesses should be using software to re-invent ad targeting and delivery to better understand audiences and the brands that may be meaningful to them, as well as to deliver emotional attachment on the devices and platforms to which they are paying the most attention. Ten years from now, we won’t have upfronts focused on the star power of the programming; we’ll have “audience upfronts” focused on the advertising power that sophisticated ad businesses can use to identify real life-time customers.

Jayant Kadambi is co-founder and CEO of YuMe, Inc., a leading provider of digital video brand advertising solutions.