In the Most Transformational Period in Media History, Ampersand Champions Flexibility

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In September 2019, Ampersand was born from NCC, a company established in partnership by Comcast, Charter and Cox. While NCC was viewed mostly as a local cable rep firm, Ampersand brings the scaled reach of addressability and next generation innovation in the TV advertising experience to the forefront. Owned by the largest cable operators and having partnership agreements with every other significant video distributor across cable, telco, and satellite, Ampersand stands in a unique position to aggregate audience segments and deliver an authentic view of reach and frequency across those segments via multiple screens that is simply not available elsewhere deterministically.

Flexibility is in the DNA of Ampersand. It not only serves as an executional arm to buy local and addressable inventory, but in the technologically complex world that marries data with TV inventory, Ampersand has assumed the role of industry evangelist and trusted consultant to marketers and their agencies. The latest insights from The Myers Report 2020 Survey of Advertiser and Agency Executives on the sales teams of over 80 media organizations confirms their position in the marketplace, with Ampersand falling in the top 10 media companies whose ad sales teams provide innovative opportunities and resources.

Ampersand's President, Andrew Ward (pictured at top), could never have imagined just how important that agility and customer-first focus would be as 2020 began. Ward, a well-known and respected leader in Emerging Media circles, has been at the forefront of Advanced TV for nearly two decades. He began his sales career at NCC, spent many years with Comcast and has a well-regarded reputation for bringing a strategic, non-hyped methodical approach to marketers entering the world of Advanced TV.

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of addressable strategies. Ward first realized to what extent when March Madness abruptly ended. It was the 12th of March, and I was home watching a Big East basketball game on TV. The game stopped at half time and they said, 'Ok. The game is over. Everyone go home. I just said, "wow". That is when the magnitude of it all hit me. Just in that moment, all sports had stopped." Ward and Ampersand kicked into action helping marketers find that lost audience in other places and re-express those and all other sports dollars thanks to their unique position of having viewership insight derived from almost 40 million household set-top boxes.

Ward sees flexibility as table stakes. "When I speak with clients now, their refrain is 'I don't know what I am going to be doing three weeks from now, let alone, three quarters from now.' They are looking for greater flexibility as they explore their TV investments.

The economic shock from COVID-19 has also woken up marketers from their habit of paying more for less each year during the Upfront. "What has surprised me over the past three months is the voice of clients finally saying, 'I was willing to tolerate (higher CPMs in a shrinking ratings world) this for many years, but I am not so willing to tolerate it anymore.' In today's environment flexibility isn't a luxury, but a requirement to respond to the tumultuous headlines that we have had across all fronts for the past few months. Addressable TV allows marketers to respond quickly and relevantly in their messaging based on which phase of re-opening (or re-closing) that each market finds itself in or any other input from the news cycle."

The fundamental changes to the marketplace are grounded in data; all of which Ampersand has a unique meta-view. Ward believes that marketers are asking themselves "How do we move into a more audience-based environment in regard to data? How do we leverage brand data whether it be our own 1st party data or other data resources?"

A prerequisite to achieving the answers to the above is less about the mythical common currency, and more around common definitions.

"We are working closely with our data partners to develop common audience definitions. For example, if we are going to call out luxury auto intenders, we need to make sure that definition is consistent across the entirety of our distribution footprint. We federate, harmonize, and unify audience definitions at a campaign planning level so when a Brand activates against a specific audience segment, they do so in a unified manner across their investment with us,"

Ampersand is working to ensure that back-end reporting and reach/frequency management, in addition to full-funnel brand metrics at the audience sub-segment level is also uniform.

Ward is supportive of the industry's On Addressable effort designed to enable national programmer linear inventory with addressable capabilities. This strategy also helps the TV ecosystem to protect and potentially claw back ad dollars that have migrated to digital players such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others. However, he cautions that, from a programmer's perspective, the addressable business model needs to be considered in light of traditional tv models. "The current (pre-addressable) model has worked very well for programmers for many years. In an addressable model, the programmer needs to think of their traditional linear inventory in more of a digital model, and the related optimization around inventory yield given the prospect of selling micro-parts of an ad unit which was previously sold as a whole unit. That said, we support any efforts that bring richer data, better targeting, and more accountable measurement to the TV ecosystem."

Even as individual programmers make a portion of their inventory addressable, there remains the need to aggregate those networks to scale. "One of the advantages that Ampersand has is that we sell inventory across over a hundred networks and can aggregate the audience entirely."

As advertisers embrace addressable strategies in both TV and digital, the ability to measure and control frequency has become one of the top challenges in today's marketplace. As a company owned and aligned with some of the top ISPs in the U.S., Ampersand sits with a view that few others, if any, can claim.

"One of Ampersand's unique positions in the marketplaces is leadership in being able to measure unduplicated reach. Whether you buy inventory through us or not. If a marketer is buying network TV (cable and broadcast), spot TV (cable and broadcast) and then addressable or any combination of those, we can build models that demonstrate the build of frequency and reach and give you the ability to manage your frequency across all utilized channels. Over the coming months, we are focusing conversations on cost per incremental reach point, managing frequency across screen, and de-duplicating audiences."

The unique confluence of technological maturation, data availability, and the unfortunate, but real catalyst of COVID-19 has led to a spotlight shone on Addressable TV. Ampersand is leading the way in this market providing their clients with a platform for real time action, targeted messaging, and a focus on consistent, uniform metrics and accountability across the entire TV and digital video ecosystem.

To hear more from Andrew Ward, President of Ampersand, read his blog here.

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