The media portion of my career began in 1995 when I was introduced to the wonders of the Internet by landing a job at Time Inc.'s Pathfinder. Relationships and experiences forged during my three years there continue to aid my career, but since I now work much closer to television than print, I find it ironic that I am occasionally impacted by Time Warner's Full Service Network (FSN), a project on which I never worked.
FSN was a mid-90's interactive television trial and something of a predecessor to Pathfinder. Unfortunately, FSN mostly proved that the technology of the day was incapable of delivering on the promise of two-way television services (i.e., ordering a pizza with your remote) and advance advertising such as interactivity and addressability. Some would argue that the latter is still true today.
In recent years I've gotten acquainted with many of the companies hoping to shape the future of television advertising, such as TiVo, Canoe Ventures, BlackArrow, Backchannelmedia, Tandberg, DoubleClick/Google, Microsoft (Navic and Atlas), Invidi, and Visible World. Additionally, I have been following with great interest the progress being made by multichannel distributors such as DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cablevision, Bright House and DISH. Though I confess to have never run a live, dynamically-served television commercial, I am convinced that ad delivery technology is not the primary bottleneck.
It has now been almost 15 years since the launch of FSN, so what is holding back advanced television advertising? I assign a good portion of the blame to:
· Ad seller anxiety
· Lack of front-end tools to sell and manage deals of such complexity
· Unresolved business model issues
Issues 1 and 2 are intertwined, so let's first address ad seller anxiety. History has shown that salespeople (not just media sellers) tend to take the path of least resistance to their commissions (wouldn't you?). However, addressable advertising alone presents plenty of new, and very resistible, dilemmas such as selling and scheduling several commercials for a single spot based on profiles, and fulfillment tracking of targeted impressions. For now, click-thru is a foreign paradigm for interactive television ads. Do you think that could generate demand for performance-based pricing like cost-per-click?
While training and simple familiarity with the nomenclature helps eliminate trepidation, in an emerging business when the advance capabilities will be a tiny portion of normal business (and hence, commissions), more must be done to reward the extra effort required of sellers. Compensation incentives will always help a salesperson become "willing," but until we provide sellers with the proper tools to manage complex ad inventory and deals, they won't be sufficiently "able."
It's safe to assume that a successful national television sales team is armed with a mature set of ad sales management tools such as:
a. Inventory Management
b. Rate Card
c. Proposal Generation & Contract Maintenance
However, what happens when we ask even the most seasoned account executives to sell addressable or interactive ads? Can they manage it through their linear-focused systems? If not, will they be relegated to a combination of phone calls, emails, Excel, bailing wire and chewing gum? Even if their ad delivery engine has a slick front-end to cover some of these functions, will they now use two systems to handle multidimensional deals?
If the above scenario doesn't frighten you, you've probably never witnessed the challenges of selling cross-property when the respective primary sales teams have entirely different sales tools. From my own experiences in interactive ad sales, where, except for startups, most shops were formed by a series of mergers, building out a single set of cross-site sales tools became a prerequisite to any structured cross-site selling. Heck, a few one-offs are manageable with fancy spreadsheets pulling together disparate data from plans or invoices, but this is a recipe for disaster which has scarred many.
It seems then, that consolidated sales tools for traditional commercials and advanced television ads are a prerequisite for features like addressability and interactivity to reach their revenue potential. I think we even need to up the ante and be able to process ad deals that may run on multiple platforms through a single dashboard. That is, have traditional and non-traditional ad elements coexist in items such as media plans and invoices.
Only if we implement such integrated capabilities will we satisfy the second golden rule of ad operations: make advanced television commercials easy to sell. This will inherently go a long way to accomplishing rule one: make advanced television commercials easy to buy.
Michael Stoeckel is Vice President, Digital Products for INVISION Inc.
Read all Mike's MediaBizBlogger commentaries at Invision - MediaBizBlogger.