OnScreen Media Summit: Cross-Platform Ad Sales Remain 'Elusive'

New York—Monetizing content on multiple media platforms is happening today—but mostly as separate sales, not via single buys, a panel of experts agreed Tuesday.

“At the present time, cross-platform is still elusive,” Lee Westerfield, managing director of Internet and broadcasting research at BMO Capital Markets, said during a panel session on the topic at the inaugural "B&C-Multichannel News OnScreen Media Summit" here Tuesday.

Measurement standards across digital media are not well integrated yet, Westerfield said, and multiple-platform ad buys are not happening in abundance yet either.

“I agree with Lee—we can do it, we’re not quite there yet,” said Jennifer Pirot, vice president of sales business development at NBC Universal Digital Distribution.
NBCU is still trying to “play everywhere” she said, and “experiment as much as possible. And then hopefully, as is often the case, as technology and metrics catch up, we’re in the position to monetize in the long term.”

“The answer is it’s not categorical,” said Josh Freeman, EVP of digital media at Discovery Communications. “We will have several deals where we take programming cross platform.”

Shows like Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch can be marketed successfully across TV, video-on-demand, mobile and the Web, Freeman said. But more needs to be done before advertisers in general start placing orders for ads across those platforms in an integrated fashion, panelists agreed.

In addition to measurement-standard issues, there’s a need to dynamically insert ads into VOD streams in order to avoid the long lead times that are now required to change ads. Also, ads on different platforms tend to be bought and sold by separate sales forces within the programmers and at media buying agencies, Freeman said.

“There are times when we bring advertising onto the various platforms, but it’s not a true cross-platform buy in the way that we envision it working,” Pirot said, for the reasons Freeman cited.

Exceptions include last summer’s Beijing Olympics, which NBC sold across broadcast and cable networks and digital media. “The numbers were great, the advertisers were happy,” Pirot said. Others include Maybelline and Lipstick Jungle on NBC and Nissan and the NBC hit Heroes, where advertisers were so “ingrained” with the show that they bought on multiple platforms, she said. “But they are few and far between right now.”

“We are monetizing on every platform,” Freeman added. “The question is—can we sell them as a single package to a single advertiser.”

He said “there are multiple but not a huge number of examples where we’ve been able to do that,” including Deadliest Catch. After the session, he cited the VOD (and overall) success of TLC series Jon & Kate Plus Eight, about the Gosselin family and their sextuplets, and said Discovery would make a strong cross-platform push for it at the next ad-sales upfront period.

Jordan Levin, the CEO of production and talent management agency Generate, asked whether a big programmer like NBCU or a big ad buyer could implement a single price for an ad “view,” regardless of platforms, unlike the varying price per impression that now exists among mass and emerging media.

Westerfield cited NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker’s often-quoted remark (originally in Variety) from October 2007, at the launch of the video aggregation site Hulu, that “we don't want to replace the dollars we were making in the analog world with pennies on the digital side.”

From an investor’s perspective, media companies need to make sure they can deliver a return on investment in content. “That can’t be done on a flat rate for all video products, in my opinion,” Westerfield said.

Freeman said it ultimately will come down to making the right pitch that involves disparate platforms. “The onus is on us as programmers to put together cross-platform programs that not only can’t be broken apart but they appeal so much to a media buyer that they say, ‘Gosh, I see why I should want to follow this.’”

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