Ad Experts Seek Linear vs. Digital Spending Formula

It used to be so simple for advertisers: pick a broadcast slot, pay the asking price and hope your 15-, 30- or 60-second ad had an impact.

Obviously that simplistic approach to advertising doesn’t fly in today’s digital world, and yet traditional ad players—both buyers and sellers—are still struggling with how to address the new reality of content advertising, according to ad tech and creative agency executives, speaking during an Aug. 9 panel on digital advertising in Santa Monica, Calif.

“Any hurdles, anything that makes it harder or anything that can be viewed as taking money out of the hands of a sales guy at a network will not be met well,” said Mike Fisher, VP for interactive ad company BrightLine. “But when you back it up with data, when you back it up with addressability…it opens up many doors.”

Traditional broadcast ad players are still struggling with how to handle their digital play, according to Justin Beere, director of FourFronts partnerships for Comcast-owned online video ad tech company FreeWheel. And solving that dilemma remains the holy-grail for those invested in today’s advertising business, Beere said.

“What if a media seller could look at their inventory as just inventory, where it doesn’t matter if it’s an iPhone, or an Xbox, linear television, set-top box or [video-on-demand], unify it and just sell it?” Beere said.

“A year from now,” he added, “I think we’ll be a couple steps closer to the vision where a publisher can talk to an agency and offer not just their television audience, not just their Xbox or Apple TV audience, but just their audience.”

Ross McCray, CEO of start-up VideoAmp—whose platform promises to enable content companies and advertisers to run ads across platforms and devices—said the key to effective digital advertising is data, and using that information to specifically target individual consumers.

“It’s not going to be just age and gender or household incomes, it’s going to be about bringing in any type of data segment, transaction data and the ability to do targeted spending [and] upload custom segments, and work with companies… to do advance currencies, based on set-tops and IP addresses,” McCray said.


But one of the largest obstacles in the way of targeted advertising is making sure the right ad is on the right device and on the right platform, panelists agreed. BrightLine’s Fisher called the concept “dynamic creative.” It’s making sure a mobile device is addressed differently than a 60-inch TV when it comes to interactive ads, and “making sure they’re created for that lean-back experience,” he said.

“When you’re talking about that traditional, 30-second creative spot, when we’re talking about [over-the-top], you want to be using that same 30-second spot you’re [displaying] on TV. [But] when you’re watching high-quality, full-screen video on a Roku, and it flips over to an ad being served by a digital ad network, you’re seeing web content, grainy ads, you’re seeing it load differently,” Fisher said. “That’s not Roku’s fault, it’s the fault of media buyers… and [shows] the ad buying model isn’t moving quickly enough.”

Oleg Korenfeld, executive VP of ad tech and platforms for media agency Mediavest Spark, agreed, saying that traditional advertising buyers and sellers are both used to operating in the same traditional silos and are still adjusting to the cross-platform, multiscreen world of today.

“[They] want to deliver a message that fits naturally in the environment where [consumers] are consuming it, and that’s hard,” Korenfeld said. “When you’re a creative agency, it’s difficult to create one type of ad that can be repurposed both for TV and digital, in both a mobile and living room environment. That’s a lot of ads, a lot of cost, in multiple environments. That hasn’t been solved yet.”

Autumn White, regional digital director for media agency OMD West, added that digital advertisers have an opportunity that just didn’t exist during the days of pure linear: cross-platform means better brand marketing, she said.

“The opportunity is sequential messaging,” White said. “From a creative perspective it’s all about the storytelling, reaching the right person at the right time, in the right place, on the right platform, and building on the story you’re seeing everywhere.”


During the panel there was mixed feelings regarding the state of cross-platform measurement. Some said that the progress made this year by both Nielsen and comScore was substantial. Others were more cautious.

“We need to figure out how to measure mobile accurately, that’s the biggest one,” White said. “I think it’s going to be complicated, because we live in a world of walled gardens—there’s Google, there’s Facebook, sometimes they share, sometimes they don’t. Nielsen has its data, comScore has an integration with Rentrak and everybody has these niche products, where you can use one thing but not the other. It’s piecemeal.”

“A bunch of different measurements are going to be used,” FreeWheel’s Beere said. “That’s the world we live in, where there are different vendors providing different solutions.”

BrightLine’s Fisher noted that Nielsen admitted it was a couple of years late to the party on cross-platform measurement, but that it’s still in the TV ratings business. And as the TV sellers have a TV-first mentality, “Nielsen is going to have that mentality,” he said.

“One of the big hurdles for the networks as they go TV Everywhere and OTT is the lack of data put out by the operators, so if you log in to Discovery Channel’s OTT apps, Discovery not only doesn’t get any of the data of you as a user, they also can’t collect the data of what you’re watching,” Fisher added.

That makes it more difficult to track the information needed to buy and sell advertising, especially considering that multichannel video programming distributors mostly don’t share the TV Everywhere viewer information a channel operator might, regarding who’s viewing what, when and on which platforms.

“It’s our responsibility on the demand side to ask what’s technically possible, because if we can measure digitally across desktop and mobile and in OTT, why wouldn’t we do it?” Fisher said. “The only reason we don’t is because TV buyers and sellers don’t understand it yet.”


Netflix has been around for years and the new ESPN OTT service was just announced. One big thing they have in common? The execs on this panel insist that advertising will be crucial for the long-term survival of both.

Netflix’s domestic subscriber growth has long since plateaued, yet the streaming media giant has more than a hundred original series and films it can monetize elsewhere, outside of its monthly subscriber base. “Eventually they’ll do sponsorship, and then inserted advertising,” Fisher said.

As for the new ESPN OTT service—which will offer content outside of the linear cable channel itself—advertising will be key, according to Mediavest Spark’s Korenfeld. Otherwise, ESPN parent Disney will be relying on subscription dollars only.

“Adoption will be a problem, because as prices go up, as we go from triple play to double play, now we’re paying for Netflix, for Amazon, for Hulu, for ESPN, your bill will still be just as big or bigger,” Korenfeld said.