The folks at A+E Networks understand the value of a well thought out process. As they announce the launch of their audience-based advertising solutions for both digital and linear platforms, all of the critical elements that have taken years to achieve are in place. “Seven years ago, we started the digital iteration of Precision,” noted Peter Olsen, Executive Vice President, Ad Sales and Content Partnerships. “Three years ago, we added the linear focus. And last year we launched the attribution-based performance system.” Although the digital and linear marketplaces are very different, the complex integration of data, the streamlining of processes and the ability to customize and then guarantee results places this initiative in a new, higher class of offerings -- just in time for the Upfront.
Addressing Marketplace Frustrations
Why do all of this? Olsen (pictured above right) explained that the goal is to address two big frustrations in the marketplace, the first being the cost of entry into the linear space. “That is why we launched a new product called Precision1 or P1,” he said. “It’s a single network optimization tool designed for clients who are looking to test in the linear targeting space. It gives access to people who aren’t traditionally big spenders in TV.”
The other frustration, Olsen added, is the general inability to execute cross-platform or multi-platform strategic target optimization. “There is the lack of common currency, but we are willing to take a leap and say, ‘If you give us your target, we will reach the audience wherever it may be.’ Essentially, we want to move the industry towards optimized buying so that our advertisers can reach any target audience wherever they are watching.”
“These are the new initiatives,” noted Jason DeMarco, Vice President, Programmatic and Audience Solutions. “But the underlying foundation remains, which is to find a solution that is beneficial to all parties involved. We are focused on optimizing the user experience with relevant, targeted ads and keeping intact the premium experience of our content.”
How does the team at A+E overcome the nagging but incorrect perception of programmatic as remnant inventory? “I have been fighting that fight for a good seven years,” DeMarco (pictured above, top left) admitted. “Programmatic started as a race to the bottom because, basically, it was a way to sell off distressed inventory.” But the reality, he added, is that “no inventory, whether on TV or in digital should be considered distressed when you are applying data sources to it. Each and every impression will be relevant and valuable to someone.”
When it comes to the premium viewing experience, the relevant ads within that experience will have greater resonance, as well as brand safety. In addition, there is a wider rotation of ads so viewers will not see the same spots over and over. “We have identified the ability to increase the frequency of advertisers to have a more well-balanced delivery of ads and creative, which helps the consumer on the user experience side,” DeMarco said. On the advertiser side, this method avoids saturation so that “the premium is maintaining that TV-like environment across all platforms and screens.”
A+E Networks has also partnered with several technology firms to replicate the TV experience on digital platforms. “The SVOD services are taking viewership and, therefore, impressions away from the ad-supported video market,” said Ethan Heftman, Senior Vice President, Ad Sales Precision. “Where do we turn? Do we go to unsafe, hard to measure spaces that get brands really nervous but help on efficiency? Or do we find ways to explore places in the premium market?” To that end, A+E Networks is placing more of their premium content on Hulu, Roku and Pluto. In this way, they can keep the ecosystem “healthy and also retain clients who understand that video works while also making it affordable,” Heftman (pictured above, bottom left) explained.
The ability to blend all the different datasets from both the household and individual level is another selling point to this initiative. “This is where we find the best-in-class partnerships,” noted DeMarco, like LiveRamp, DataPlusMath and iSpot for data; ad serving and tech stack partnerships such as FreeWheel, and trade desks on the buy side like dataxu. There are a lot of test cases using ingested client data, matching it with viewership data and delivering against targeted audiences with results expected in the next several months. For the Upfront, there is the promise that all of these datasets will enable cross-platform measurement and deliverability for advertisers.
“A+E offers the premium content and distribution to deliver audiences,” said Olsen, who backs up his beliefs by guaranteeing the buy results. “We are partnering with the best-in-class technology and data to bring together all aspects of cross-platform viewership in a synchronized, collaborative way.”
While the full holistic integration of digital and linear is possible, it is not simple. “We think that the only way to compete and not overpromise and under-deliver, is to have a product that, from a cost perspective, reduces the barriers to entry for new advertisers and moves from digital and into a linear television world with reduced complexity,” Heftman said.
The response from advertisers has been encouraging. “We were the first in market with outcome guarantees, which created initial demand, and we are now seeing a ton of repeat customers,” Heftman concluded.
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