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Advertisers want TV added to the holistic DSP view they get across all other screens, and DISH Networks has obliged

DISH Hopper 3, DVR launched at CES 2016
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Having introduced household-level addressable TV advertising in 2012, U.S. satellite operator DISH Network is now leading the way in the use of programmatic technology (the combination of data-optimization and automation) to make it easier to target broadcast homes via the set-top box. By making underlying impressions that are not sold as part of a larger addressable advertising sale available through a supply-side platform (SSP), the company is giving brands and agencies programmatic access to broadcast television audiences – a dramatic development that has been welcomed by buyers.

As Adam Gaynor, Vice President, Media Sales & Analytics at DISH Network, pointed out a few months ago, “The whole idea for programmatic in the digital domain was to give brands the opportunity to track an audience across multiple screens. Their DSPs [demand-side platforms] can provide data back to the buyer about where their audience is now, and until recently they were covering every single screen except for the television in the living room. Now we can add our advertising inventory to the holistic view that a brand gets.” 

So one reason for the introduction of programmatic technology (to some of the linear set-top box inventory) is to give advertising customers what they want. “For us, programmatic is about giving brands and agencies the opportunity to find the right audience on an impression-by-impression basis,” Gaynor adds.

There are other good reasons for this development. First, addressable TV advertising is still labour-intensive and programmatic technology helps to automate it, eliminating mundane tasks. “If we can reduce the labour on our side, we can be more reactive to the needs of agencies and brands,” Gaynor explains.

Second, DISH Network wants to get the highest yield possible across all its impressions. The company has over 8 million addressable-enabled homes and uses targeting on the two minutes per hour of avails that, by law, is theirs to sell ads against (an arrangement that has encouraged so much ad-tech innovation among U.S. platform operators). Advertisers can buy up audience segments during a 30 second spot, addressing a subset of the entire satellite population. As addressable advertising grows in popularity, DISH wants to ensure that non-targeted homes are monetized, so it is these that are being made available to buy programmatically via the SSP.

Gaynor stresses that this is not remnant inventory. These non-targeted homes are still premium, but were simply not part of the audience that a ‘traditional’ addressable advertiser bought. You can therefore buy impressions programmatically for someone who is watching American football on ESPN (on the linear broadcast feed) but who is unlikely to buy a Honda car, as an example. DISH refers to these as ‘underlying impressions’.

DISH Network knows which homes are being targeted via standard addressable sales and which homes have not been targeted much lately. The homes that are targeted or not targeted change over time, depending on which advertisers are making the traditional addressable buys. The less targeted homes are made available via the SSP. These are transacted on an impression-by-impression basis.

The platform operator introduced this new buying opportunity last November (as a pilot) with what the company calls modified real-time bidding (RTB). This means an auction is held to sell each impression and the auction itself is in real-time but is about a week before the advertising will play out. The delay is due to logistics: DISH Network has to pre-load ads for all its addressable advertising opportunities into its DVR set-top boxes via satellite. (The ad decisioning system later tells a home which ad to insert into the live channels).

This advance auction also gives the company a chance to sell plenty of impressions. However, the supply-side platform was designed to support multiple monetization strategies and DISH will be able to create private programmatic marketplaces later.

When announcing the introduction of RTB and programmatic for its broadcast addressable inventory, DISH made it clear that it wanted to reach out to more digitally-minded advertisers. And it has attracted brands who previously were focused on digital rather than TV. Glenfiddich, the premium Scottish whisky, is an excellent example. It welcomed the opportunity to air broadcast ads on the living room TV that were focused on its core market and then optimize the campaign over time.

DISH has been attracting digital money, according to Gaynor, although he notes that buyers using the SSP also include TV advertisers. But as he explains: “It does not matter whether it is digital or TV money – we just want to capture as much of the revenue as possible against the target audience we can offer.”

He predicts that eventually all the addressable impressions available from DISH Network via the set-top box will go into the programmatic platform. Moreover, the digital inventory available on the Sling TV online service (the ‘Pay Lite’ offer from DISH that targets a different market to classic Pay TV, including millennials, thanks to a lower-cost bouquet without contracts) will eventually be accessible via the SSP. Today these different audiences are sold separately.

“The ultimate goal is to have all that inventory and all audiences in one place, so that if you want to reach mums who drive mini-vans, you can find them wherever they are, regardless of screen or platform,” Gaynor confirms.

Gaynor thinks addressable TV inventory should be a prized asset for the digital-friendly buyer, given its premium nature and how it delivers fraud-free and viewable impressions. But there needs to be some level of automation to draw the digital buyers in.

Clearly data protection is a priority and Gaynor stresses that DISH keeps its first-party data “very close to us”. Personally identifiable information is never matched to viewing – everything is completely anonymized. First-party (platform) and third-party (advertiser) data goes into approved third-party warehouses (like Experian) and there are plenty of lawyers involved to guarantee all necessary compliance. Over time the company will ‘onboard’ more custom data segments into the supply-side platform.

The satellite operator is constantly checking its subscription database to ensure its data is fully up-to-date. One of the great strengths of television operators when offering more digital-like transactions is the integrity of their audience data.

Gaynor makes it clear that programmatic itself is not a product. “Addressable TV is a product – programmatic is just a process.”

The buy side has been making positive noises. Oscar Rondon, Senior Director Business Development & TV Strategy at TubeMogul, which operates a demand-side platform that gives buyers access into SSPs, reiterates the need for a holistic view of the whole marketplace when advertisers are seeking out their target audiences. He welcomes the addition of TV into the ‘digital stack’.

He points out: “We already have a view of IP-delivered TV in the form of connected TV. We have a large business targeting connected devices. For us, this is about convergence and cross-screen planning. The delivery of the asset [advertisement] will be different for each device but we want to plan holistically.”

He points to the supply-side platform at DISH Network and also the use of RTB as an indication that the lines are blurring between ‘television’ and ‘digital’ advertising, even if the TV execution is still slightly more manual. “The whole notion of TV and digital is slowly breaking down,” he reckons. Gaynor agrees, pointing to agencies where there are no longer TV groups and digital groups, and only ‘video activation’ teams.

Photo: DISH Network’s latest DVR, the Hopper 3, which was announced at CES in January.

Related story: DISH is testing programmatic real-time auctions for broadcast linear TV

Interested in the application of programmatic technology to television?

Adam Gaynor was speaking at Future TV Advertising Forum Canada in April. The London version of this event – Future TV Advertising Forum – returns in December and we will be looking in detail at how data optimization and automation (programmatic) can be used in classic television and in premium video streaming in order to boost outcomes for both advertisers and inventory owners.

Among other things, we are looking at how programmatic is being applied to standard linear TV spots as well as to addressable linear TV (and on-demand) spots. The full conference programme will be published next month. The event website is here.

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