"On TV And Video" is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in programmatic TV and video.
Today’s column is written by Amihai Ulman, founder and chief operating officer at Mass Exchange.
For more than a decade, some of the biggest names in television have been hard at work on achieving household-level addressability across their footprints.
Leaders in the space, such as Cablevision, Comcast and Dish, have deployed a great deal of hardware and software to ensure the right creative can be delivered to the right household. But what about the way in which the media is transacted?
Many in the television space have girded themselves for the onslaught of technology they fear will undermine their positions the way display publishers believe early open-market RTB eroded their pricing power.
The problem is that even though there is no real-time bidding in addressable television, the forces that weakened publishers’ pricing power in RTB are rearing their heads in addressable television. But it is not the programmatic or real-time technology that hurts a seller’s pricing power – it is the flow of information.
So, what is it about open-market RTB information flow that is similar to the information flow in today’s manual methods of buying household addressable television? Something is causing this asymmetry of the information flow that will undermine seller’s pricing power, even without any programmatic markets in place. When I shared this insight with some in the industry, the initial response was disbelief. After more explanation, they came to see the trends.
Sellers Left In The Dark
The root problem of the information flow asymmetry is a lack of shared understanding of what is being bought and sold. In the traditional model of linear TV buying, both the buyers and sellers understand the audience and placement being purchased. Both sides know how Nielsen defines the audience and both sides have a general understanding of what is being bought and sold. Therefore, the buyer and seller agreement represents a real market price.
Today’s addressable TV buyers are very different. The buyer leverages data from Rentrak and other third parties to identify a list of target households, which defines the media buy. This is where the information asymmetry begins. A seller that receives a list of households has no idea why the buyer targeted those households or what drove the value of the transaction.
If sellers have no idea why their products are valuable, how can they possibly determine a fair price? But that is how addressable TV media buys are like open-market RTB in display. The buyer knows everything about the product and what defines the value of the deal and the seller knows nothing.
In RTB markets, the publisher has no idea why any impression cleared at the price it did. A publisher has no access to the data the buyer is using to bid. This information asymmetry created a huge advantage to buyers through the use of open RTB markets. It is not the technology that undermined publishers’ pricing power – the technology just leveraged a specific type of deal model, which most onlookers conflated with the technology itself.
So what does this mean for today’s sellers of addressable TV media? It means that sellers who relinquish control over defining products and packages will be doomed to repeat the long-feared loss of pricing power experienced by display publishers. For addressable TV markets to flourish, sellers will need to use first- and third-party data to certify packages and make them discoverable.
A buyer unwilling to define the target of their buy with the seller knows full well that the value of what they are buying is much higher than what they want to pay. It is a signal to the seller that buyer is only willing to buy the inventory if the publisher sells it below its fair value.
While this may be beneficial in the short term, transaction models that strongly benefit one side of the transaction become overly complex and fail to scale to meet market needs. This has been proven by the movement of display media liquidity from open market RTB to private marketplaces, header bidding and programmatic direct. Display publishers have sought alternative channels to regain lost control.
Continuing down this path for addressable TV media transactions will result in yet another technology and vendor map that is as confusing and complex as display. That’s something I’m pretty sure none of the TV media buyers and sellers want.