TV Under The Influence: Beware Of The Spread Of Walled Gardens

johndouglas"On TV And Video" is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in programmatic TV and video.

Today’s column is written by John Douglas, director of product strategy at Sizmek.

As the biggest walled gardens on the web, Google and Facebook have become enormously successful.

A walled garden in this context is an ad-supported platform that restricts third-party companies from operating on their networks. This, in turn, curtails advertisers’ access to customer data, data management, targeting, viewability and measurement by audience or other basic metrics. These walled gardens don’t even support many IAB standards.

Google and Facebook have designed their ad-buying systems within a closed network, and combined have surpassed even television in their ability to reach people at scale. So the thinking goes, with the growth of TV networks’ over-the-top (OTT) and video on-demand (VOD) offerings, maybe it makes sense to replicate Google and Facebook’s strategy and erect their own walls around their platforms.

It theory this could work, but in practice it may not hold water.

Purchasing inventory within a walled garden cannot be effective if audiences head elsewhere, which is exactly what we’re seeing across the television landscape. Layer in a lack of attribution, and you’ve all but ensured the duplication of customer targeting due to limited access to data. The duplication is further exacerbated by the fact that no one gives their entire budget to a single TV network or provider. In this scenario, it will be nearly impossible for media buyers to make informed, cost-efficient buys if each TV giant is a walled garden of labor-intensive custom tools, audience segments and data.

One solution that everyone agrees on but few think is immediately feasible is having a standard, open platform for TV advertising. Are these data sets going to be as rich as Facebook and Google? Probably not, but it’s good to start seeding this way of thinking.

AT&T recently announced that it will start testing a private marketplace platform to buy ads across all of its properties, which incidentally includes DirecTV. This platform enables buyers to use not only their own data but that of third-party companies as well, if they all join and log on to the AT&T ad-buying interface.

It’s a way to make TV ad buying work more like programmatic ad buying, and it’s a major, definitive step forward for the industry, as long as it remains open.

Even the most basic programmatic buy has the goal of reaching the right person at the right place at the right time with the right message. To that end, advertisers will demand access to certain info and media companies will want to expose some subsets of data, to make clear the added benefit they bring, including the quality of the ad inventory.

Consider NBCUniversal and CBS. If you listen to them very closely, they do not just pitch audience reach, but rather the ability to “move product.” It shows that TV companies know that certain data is most effective when distributed. They, too, need data from outside their gardens because it helps them understand and segment their audiences in stronger, denser and more valuable pools.

TV also needs tools to understand how to manage and maximize yield as their content is further syndicated. It's not just about monetizing live programming or video on demand but also their direct-to-consumer offerings, such as CBS All Access. Having an open ecosystem that enables buyers or brands to plug in any solution for the audience they want to reach, while keeping all the data from campaigns, is not only attractive but necessary. Sure, Google and Facebook allow the use of their data for these purposes, but the buyers can’t take that data with them – a serious drawback.

Kellogg’s and Kraft Foods are among the most vocal critics of walled gardens when it comes to ad buying and data portability. Last year, they threatened to not advertise on sites that don’t allow access to third-party data because of the negative impact to their data-based media strategies, which are increasingly important to major brand marketers.

While a single TV ad hub is still quite a way off, not least because there are no standards for pricing nor is there a common platform, much like digital advertising and measurement, it is a feasible solution once TV ad buying becomes more dynamic.

Until then, let’s be sure common sense prevails when it comes to TV and walled gardens. People don’t live in walled gardens, they move around. Somebody’s going to find those audiences some place else if you decide to wall them off. So just don’t do it.

Follow Sizmek (@sizmek) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


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