The Five Problems Holding Back Programmatic Linear TV

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Over the past few months, we have been fortunate to strike deals with virtually every major Programmatic TV vendor. Some, like 4C Insights, and VideoAmp, we can mention, and some we can’t, yet.

While lighting up liner TV liquidity, we have identified key issues that are critical to creating a vibrant market. These issues focus on the market scaling challenges facing liquidity providers, buyers and sellers, that create obstacles to market liquidity and deal flow.

Inventory availability:  Access to granular inventory

Today’s sell-side programmatic linear technology is generally restricted to a small number of inventory products. Solutions in the market in 2018 have achieved a minimal level of automation by restricting transactions to a very small number of products.

For example, one network family, with eight networks, is only selling 40 daypart products programmatically but they have thousands more offered by the sales team. This issue is far more pronounced for large network families that have tens of thousands of products that are sold at differentiated pricing, based on agency and client. Such a product catalog translates to millions of price and product combinations. So, here is a simple question: is a system that was built to only handle dayparts and one rate card scalable to support an entire network family’s deal flow? We think not.

For most buyers of TV media, the inventory they want to buy is simply not available programmatically. If it is, the inventory is likely priced using someone else’s rate card, at a higher price. Most of the programmatic linear technology for publishers in the market today is just a proof of concept. It works, but everything will likely have to be rebuilt from the ground up, to handle real scale.

To increase the availability of inventory, publishers need a transactional platform that will allow them to present any sell offer they choose, to any private market or client, at the price they choose, validated against real avails. For publishers, this eliminates any fear of arbitrage or overselling, and creates an incentive for sellers to maximize the inventory they expose to buyers.

Programmatic Non-Preemptible Inventory: Deciding which deals to take or walk away from

Trafficking systems only understand inventory in the context of the deals that have already been closed. These systems don’t see or accept buy offers for non-preemptible deals. Trafficking systems use their placer algorithms as a preemptible inventory auction. In reality, placers are only designed to maximize revenue from existing deals. So, they are incapable of helping to decide which non-preemptible deal to take. For upfront and scatter deals, the trafficking system does not “see demand” until the deal is already done, and the inventory has been committed.

Linear TV publishers need a system to help to automate the answer to “should I take this deal?” (digital publishers have SSPs for that) A system that can access all the available inventory of spots and audience, access preemptible and non-preemptible deals, and understand deal terms (like pod exclusivity, advertiser category, and separation), to produce a single view of all existing demand.

An even greater challenge is yet to come, programmatically managing inventory on an audience basis, where sold audience deals in one segment are accounted for when offering a different segment that has an audience overlap.

Selling Audiences:  Guarantee liabilities that are hard to quantify

While some networks offer a managed service solution for audience buyers, the process is still very manual. People take in an order, run audience forecasts, generate a plan, validate the plan against actual available inventory, update the plan to accommodate booked inventory, and respond to the buy order. In the end, audience demand is translated to linear supply, so the trafficking system knows how to book the deal.

The key challenge in automating the selling of linear TV audiences is understanding the unsold inventory in the context of the existing audience and traditional linear deals. Current trafficking systems don’t understand audiences at all, they are built on a break and slot framework, e.g. 2:02 break with four 30 second slots.

 Dynamic Pricing and Price Discrimination: Matching offer prices to market conditions

Today, linear TV publishers offer inventory programmatically with very little price discrimination. There are no specific prices by advertiser category, no automated discounts for larger buys, no ability to dynamically update prices as inventory sells out, and no automated way to price inventory based on its audience target. 

Today, sale teams review market conditions and advertiser needs to manually adjust prices. Programmatic systems are needed to help sales teams do that at scale.

 Real-time responses to buy orders: Wait days to find out what you bought

If you have had the pleasure of using a DSP for linear TV, you already know that once you send out your buy order, it can take up to 72 hours before you get a response or confirmation. Why? It’s not your DSP’s fault. It’s because linear TV publishers simply don’t have technology that can compute an answer to your buy order and respond.

For media buyers and planners, this means that a programmatic buy, which includes multiple revision cycles, can still take weeks to finalize. It’s “programmanual.” Linear TV publishers need systems that can understand the demand, understand deal terms and pricing rules, to compute responses to buy offers.

Having said all that, it’s simple. Linear TV publishers need a platform that activates their TV inventory with DSPs that are standing in line and waiting to buy. The MASS Exchange platform solves these issues in ways no other platform does. If you would like to learn more, reach out to us at