The Future of TV advertising and the Golden age of Digital

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The Future of TV Advertising report

The industry has seen traditional TV advertising spend continue to grow even in the face of increasing technological disruption, a proliferation of video sources and changing viewer habits. We wanted to understand what we could expect over the next five years.

We believe that these trends are not sustainable, that the changes in viewer behavior will accelerate and that the long-run brand-building platform will be predominantly digital.

Our analysis of the coming disruption to the TV advertising market predicts:

  • Viewers moving to Over The Top (OTT) video in ever-greater numbers
  • Linear TV forming a smaller part of the "attention mix"
  • The advertising market forced to become more real-time, market-priced and algorithmic as a result
  • Marketing spend fragmenting across platforms and media
  • A “neutral evaluation” of all media formats
  • $14-25 billion / year moving away from traditional linear TV advertising over the next five years and being “up for grabs” by digital

The western world has had the TV as a fixture of the living room for over half a century and in some senses the technology has evolved smoothly - from black and white to colour and from smaller to bigger (in physical size and resolution). Through all of this, people have continued to spend a lot of time watching.

Advertising against linear TV has long been the dominant brand marketing play not only because we watch a huge amount of TV, but also because our focussed attention on an emotive medium makes for incredibly effective marketing.

The disruption that's coming to TV is largely driven by the rapid growth of so-called Over The Top (OTT) content. This content, which includes Netflix, YouTube, many on-demand services and certain forms of timeshifting, is delivered via your broadband connection rather than through your proprietary broadcast, cable or satellite TV connections. The decoupling of delivery mechanism and content provider is great for consumers who get a wealth of choice and new services but it is highly disruptive.

Much like the "year of the mobile" which was forecast for a decade before it quietly snuck past us, the technical side of this revolution has been possible for some time. Many people have been streaming video for years. Meanwhile the disconnect between the growth in sales of Smart TVs and their actual use highlights how frustrating this has been for analysts who have been predicting the revolution.

The user experience of most Smart TVs continues to be generally terrible but, much like how the first iPhone finally broke the "good enough" barrier that unleashed mobile data usage, we believe the hardware, software and connection speeds are finally there to do the same for OTT.

The Google Chromecast has been one of Amazon’s bestsellers in electronics for 16 consecutive weeks (as at Jan 2014) and we believe that when Google finally publishes sales numbers, they will show that it is a lead contender in this space.

Most of us have heard of the massive global media buyers who do 9-figure deals on behalf of the biggest advertisers in the world - names like Starcom Mediavest, OMD, ZenithOptimedia, Mindshare and MediaCom, owned by behemoth groups like Publicis, Omnicom and WPP. In recent times, they’ve often hit the headlines with their plans to get even bigger.

These media buyers aggregate demand from brand advertisers to get buying power in their negotiations with the media owners. The media owners are often represented in these negotiations by middle-men of their own. Called sales houses, they aggregate together smaller broadcasters, channels and content owners to improve their negotiating position.

In principle, they are capable of selling against time-shifted content, on-demand content, of selling adverts targeted to individual people and households, and of a variety of other innovative adverts. At present, however, the vast majority of the spend goes on traditional linear advertising.

In particular, the less we can rely on everyone sitting down to watch the same shows at the same time, the more the advertising market must become real-time, with adverts being shown based on who is watching what at that exact moment. In order to achieve this, pricing must move towards a market-pricing model as negotiated agreements won’t be able to capture the complexities of almost unlimited viewer / time / show combinations. We believe this will most likely look like some kind of auction-based pricing and that it will open the door for algorithmic and automated buying.

The biggest of these impacts is the introduction of auction-based market-pricing which is one of the factors that leads us to agree with the advertiser quoted in an IBM report entitled the end of advertising as we know it.

So far, the biggest changes in behavior have happened in the US markets, which are structurally set up to be slow to price in such changes.

In the US, the majority of the money changes hands in the upfront market. Each spring, TV executives get together with advertising executives and media buyers in glitzy events hosted by the likes of Oprah. The TV channels (or their stars) pitch a combination of stats-based performance and emotional appeal in order to lock in deals for the upcoming season which starts in September.

So far, the markets haven’t fully priced-in the changes we are seeing to user behavior.

We anticipate that changing user behavior will be priced into UK deals more quickly because:

  1. The commitments made by the buyers before the season begins are much less iron-clad. They are typically complex - committing buyers to spending certain percentages of their total spend with a given player rather than a £ amount - leaving the channels much more exposed to changing economic conditions than in the US.
  2. Rather than selling “spots”, the deals are structured in terms of impacts - the number of viewers in a targeted demographic who end up seeing the advert. It is therefore only after airing the show (and its advertising) that the channel knows the revenue it has earned.

Despite this, the growing disparity can’t continue forever in the US and we anticipate that more transparency and market-pricing will eventually begin to correct the disparity between the attention consumers pay to offline media and the total spend allocated there. Ultimately, the money follows the attention.

Even discounting more dramatic shifts in user behavior and only relying on the extrapolation of recent trends and a closing of the offline / online spend gap, we forecast that there could be up to $25bn / year of brand advertising spend up for grabs - and moving away from linear TV - over the next five years.

Should viewer behavior shift more dramatically, even more of the $0.5tn / year global advertising market could flow to new areas.

Of course with such large sums of money at stake, we shouldn't expect the incumbent players to ignore the disruption happening around them and we can’t expect all of the spend lost by linear TV to accrue to digital. Having said that, we believe that Harvard Business School Professor Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma applies here and that the innovation we are seeing is disruptive in the sense he describes.

The theory forecasts two big observable effects in the early stages of the disruption. Firstly, the top end of the old market (e.g. Superbowl adverts) will become ever more elaborate and expensive in ways that digital simply can’t match. The total revenue and the cost per impact will increase for the biggest events in the calendar.

At the other end of the market, we will see challenger brands adopt cheaper forms of digital marketing even before they are truly effective at building a global brand. Those brands that have never been able to afford "big TV" - or whose product or service wasn’t well-suited to the medium - will start quietly spending more and more on digital.

The eponymous dilemma arises because the big players ignore the cheaper, less effective tactics for so long that they then struggle to adjust their business to work in the lower-margin, lower-spend world.

We believe the battle for the digital brand spend is still open. It's clear that the tools we already have aren’t yet up to the job and we believe there is an opportunity for a platform to become the AdWords of brand advertising. AdWords dominates the small business direct advertising market not only by being effective but by being:

  • Self-service
  • Without minimum spends
  • Market-priced
  • Limited in its economies of scale

All of these factors make it an attractive experiment for all but the smallest businesses. Clear analytical tracking and measurement of the return make it addictive, and many small-to-mid-sized companies allocate the lion’s share of their advertising budget to the channel.

The brand advertising space is less transparent, less easily measured and comes with higher barriers to entry. We believe that Facebook and YouTube both have a shot at being the de facto platform, but neither is there yet.

Regardless of the platform, consumers are becoming less and less tolerant of intrusive commercial messages. The permission marketing and inbound marketing movements are predicated on the desire of brands to get "close" to their customers and on consumers to avoid annoying commercial intrusions on their lives.

We believe that these trends are real and necessary for modern marketing but are not sufficient without clear-eyed thinking about distribution. In a world of filter bubbles where the messages we all receive are controlled by our circle of acquaintances and trusted commentators, media spend must support visibility to those groups. Perhaps more importantly, the creative message must be compelling enough not only to encourage consumers to give brands permission to communicate with them but also to be shared by those consumers to their wider circles.

Whichever platform dominates, we believe that the creative will be crucial.