ABC Television Network is proving the value of buying its advertising across traditional TV and digital platforms (including desktop, tablet and mobile) as a single, unified buy. Advertisers can now give ABC a target audience and a target number of impressions for that audience and the U.S. media giant contracts to deliver it, finding the viewers wherever they are. This pioneering approach, called â€˜ABC Unifiedâ€™, requires that advertisers accept that all viewers are of equal value, whatever device they are watching on, something that ABC has demonstrated in studies.
According to Rick Mandler, VP, Digital Ad Sales at ABC Television Network, a significant percentage, though not a majority, of ABCâ€™s 200+ advertising clients are using ABC Unified today. Those who buy their campaigns in this holistic manner are happy with the outcome, he reports. The main hurdle to more advertisers and agencies using this approach is the fact that their television and digital budgets are separated, so they have to treat these distribution channels in isolation whether they want to or not.
ABC Unified was presented to the advertising industry at the May 2012 â€˜upfrontsâ€™, where marketers have the chance to buy airtime and other advertising inventory. One year later, in May this year, the network carried out a study that demonstrated the benefits of the unified buy, comparing an ABC Unified campaign to a television-only campaign on ABC. â€œThe campaigns had the same budgets and flight dates [the period(s) in which advertising appears]. The unified campaign delivered a lower median age and it delivered greater frequency and reach in the 18-24 age range and greater overall reach for adults of 18-49,â€ Mandler reveals. â€œCompared to TV-only, the unified campaign had real benefits.â€
ABC Unified encompasses linear TV and on-demand across traditional platforms (like over-the-air, cable, satellite, etc.). The digital inventory includes programming on ABC.com and via the various â€˜Watch ABCâ€™ apps (e.g. iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone, various Android tablets and Android phones to follow). It also includes Hulu (desktop) and Hulu Plus (the multiscreen version of the service that combines subscription and advertising).
One of the next steps is to expand the inventory for ABC Unified to include ABC programming viewed inside the authenticated TV Everywhere multiscreen services from platform operators. That will happen in 2014. The ads in these apps or websites will be sold and served by ABC. Mandler says Dynamic Advertising Insertion (DAI) for VOD on set-top boxes will be possible on ABC content starting next year, in partnership with major MVPDs (Multichannel Video Programming Distributors).
â€œThe way that works is that we are connecting our broadband advertising server (the company uses FreeWheel) to the MVPD infrastructure so that FreeWheel can manage the campaigns and therefore provide a unified source of campaign pacing [the rate at which impressions are delivered over the duration of a campaign] and impression measurement,â€ Mandler explains.
The message that ABC has been taking to advertisers, when discussing the virtues of ABC Unified, is that consumers are watching TV on lots of different screens and the content is following them, and this single buy is a way for advertisers to do the same. One of the key benefits to advertisers is that ABC is taking the burden of creating a cross-platform campaign upon itself, at least on its own inventory. For advertisers who do want to target audiences everywhere it starts to make life easier.
â€œOur mantra is â€˜One deal, one CPM on a demographic that is guaranteed across every screenâ€™,â€ Mandler says. â€œWe like to think we are taking some of the weight off our clientsâ€™ shoulders, making this a part of the normal planning and buying process with trusted sources of content.â€
It is the single CPM (cost per thousand) rate that makes it important for ABC to demonstrate that every viewer within an advertiserâ€™s target demographic is of equal value, regardless of device. Mandler provides more evidence that this is the case. â€œWe have done a fair amount of research on advertising effectiveness with different devices, looking at purchase intent, advertising recall and brand likeability for the same advertisement in the same programmes, featuring the same ad loads but on different screens. The results are almost identical; the impact is roughly the same whatever screen you are using.â€
He believes it is inevitable that all advertising will be sold in this unified manner but stresses that there is a long way to go before we reach that point. â€œThe consumer future happens much faster than people think and the business future happens much slower.
â€œThe biggest hurdle is that not every client plans and buys on a unified basis,â€ he adds. â€œThe second biggest hurdle is measurement. In order to make this work we need good demographic information about viewership on every platform and we do not have that today.â€
One of the next steps for ABC, therefore, is to work with Nielsen, the audience measurement specialist behind the traditional sample-based ratings system, to improve measurement on mobile platforms and make sure it includes demographics.
Today you can get demographic information about desktop (PC and laptop) viewers using Nielsen OCR (Online Campaign Ratings). ABC uses this most of the time but when requested to by a client will also use comScoreâ€™s VCE (Validated Campaign Essentials) system to determine digital demographics. Currently Nielsen OCR does not support mobile devices (tablets/mobile) so ABC takes the audience demographic composition from the desktop and applies that to mobile.
As an example, if an advertiser wants to target adults aged 18-49, and the latest data shows that 70% of views on desktops fall into this category, and you deliver 100 impressions on mobile devices, the advertiser is billed for 70 mobile impressions in the target demographic.
Mandler says agencies are happy with this approach for the time being, although nobody views it as more than an interim solution. â€œThe reason they are happy with it today is that our data shows that the mobile audience is younger and more upscale than the desktop audience, so advertisers actually get a bonus.â€
ABC Unified is a truly pioneering initiative and if you want to learn more about it, Rick Mandler is giving a 20 minute presentation on the concept of the bundled cross-platform buy at Future TV Advertising Forum this December in London. He will drill further into the details of how it works and the challenges involved. He is speaking in a session dedicated to â€˜Lessons from North Americaâ€™, which also includes Verizon talking about its Dynamic Advertising Insertion plans. Download the conference agenda here and find out more about the event here.