There have been a lot of questions lately about the long term viability of Google TV Ads, but it seems clear that none of the questioners have had all the information required to render a verdict.
Google already has an obvious advantage with its billion dollars of Ad Words cash. But it also enjoys a number of other, less obvious advantages in extending that brand and methodology to television.
Cable Television: Sure, Google TV Ads is only operating within the medium of cable television and satellite, versus the sexier, richer world of "broadcast" television. But ad dollars to broadcast are falling, while ad dollars to the more targeted and measurable world of cable television are increasing. (Source: TVB/Magna, 2010 Est.). In fact, the way broadcast television is going (e.g. Comcast/NBC) it wouldn't be surprising if all television channels someday became "cable" channels.
The Internet Protocol: In June of 2009, television officially went digital. Technically speaking, television is now as measurable as any other binary data flowing through any digital network or device. As the lines between subscription and ad-supported media continue to blend and blur, the mega-medium of TCP/IP will prevail – further accelerating the parity between TV and "the Web," a medium which has already become synonymous with Google.
Set Top Boxes: Virtually every home worth measuring in America has a cable set-top box, and Google has quietly managed to coordinate millions of these mini edge-servers into a "TV sample" rivaling any people meter deployment. Google records whether a show has been played and whether a commercial spot (of five seconds or more) has been viewed. Those results are then sent back to the Google "head end" within 24 hours after the spot has been integrated and run, allowing advertisers to quickly gauge the efficacy of their campaigns – allowing any adjustments to the flighting of those campaigns to be made the next day!
Google Analytics: Any media executive who's not been living under a rock for the past five years knows how powerful - and universal - Google Analytics has become as a media measurement tool for not only measuring Web traffic to a site, but for using the insights from the data to "tune" future campaigns.
Google TV Ads ties directly into Google Analytics, not only providing a familiar metrics dashboard for digital marketing executives, but a valuable opportunity to see how activity on one platform can influence the other. Imagine: the world's two most powerful media - TV and the Web - measured through a common interface.
DG FastChannel: Not many people caught the announcement last summer describing Google's partnership with this nimble company out of Texas. Unbeknownst to many, DG manages 90% of the TV commercials around the country over high speed fiber optic networks for integration into TV shows at every level (national, local, syndication, etc.). In short, it's DG that tees up the commercials that are made available through the Google TV Ads platform, and get integrated into shows, networks and dayparts.
Standards: Over the past eight years the Association of American Advertising Agencies (the 4As), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), all of the major media companies, and over 800 advertisers (including 70 of the top advertisers in the U.S.) have signed up for an industry standard coding and meta-data platform for the identification and tracking of advertising across all media, including TV commercials, known as "Ad-ID". This 12 character, alpha-numeric identifier, and its associated meta-data, allows advertisers, broadcasters and any other stakeholder to not only track their ads, but do so across any digital platform. Needless to say, Google has already incorporated Ad-ID into its TV asset management and tracking systems.
Metrics: One of the many important features of Google TV Ads is that the price of a spot is determined on a cost per thousand basis, and its demographic profiles are already familiar to TV planners and buyers (Ex: Men 18-49, Women, 25-54). This not only allows media buyers of Google TV Ads to speak the language of "reach and frequency" (as frustrating as that metric has become to the next generation of media and marketing executives), it also allows those same buyers to determine what they can or should pay for a spot, based on their own, internal ROI calculations (the current justification for paying or not paying certain prices for online keywords). This "bi-lingual" world, where the performance based metrics of cost-per-click meets the brand based metrics of cost-per-thousand is another compelling aspect of Google TVs value proposition.
Innovation: Due to the perfect storm of decimalized TV ratings, escalating Nielsen costs to measure those ratings, and a universal frustration with Nielsen's inability to effectively measure cross-platform audiences, the Coalition for Innovation in Media Measurement (CIMM), was formed in 2009. However, given the moving parts and "dots" that Google seems to have already connected, could this think tank on steroids hope to affect any real technology, standards, metrics or deployments that aren't already represented by Google?
And let's be honest, while universal agreement on "horizontal" measurement standards like reach and frequency through a common currency like Nielsen is vital to the TV economy, true ROI ultimately can only be determined by individual advertisers, based on their own "vertical" drill-down across all media. Advertisers are effectively re-contextualizing the value of television within a larger portfolio of brand communications and metrics.
Sure, such performance based media buying systems may only be appropriate for direct response advertisers on cable, leaving the less measurable "brand buys" to frolic in the magical grey area of positioning, association and good will that broadcast television has become. No doubt there will always be an important role for the big broadcast brand buy, even in our highly measurable digital future. But it is only a matter of time until Google folds even broadcast television into its profoundly powerful TV (cross-TV?) platform. All the while it will be adding billions of new dollars from "non-traditional" TV advertisers to the mix; increasing pressure on inventory and causing prices for premium inventory to rise. By this time, an auction based system, like the ones provided by Google, might be the only way to manage such a mega-media exchange. But maybe it's too early to tell.
David Hutchinson is Senior Vice President of Operations and New Media for Program Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org