​​​In late September, ABCOM (Association of Broadcast Communicators) hosted a panel discussion in Vancouver entitled The Future of Data and Automation―the Impact on Sellers, Buyers and Clients. Industry experts shared their opinions on overall programmatic issues and their predictions on how it will be rolled out into the broadcast media sales process.

The panel represented a wide range of opinions from varied interests and was moderated by Josh Tebbutt, VP, Media Director from Jungle Media. The panelists included Stuart Garvie, President, Bell Media Sales; Chris 'Dunner' Duncombe, Director of New Media, Corus Radio; Genevieve Guay, VP, AMNET Canada; Michka Mancini, VP Digital Sales, Innovation & Emerging Media, Rogers Communications; Tim Schellenberg, VP, Local & Regional Sales, Shaw Media; and Keith Eadie, CMO, TubeMogul. 

From personal discussions with industry peers on both the broadcast and agency sides, it seems that the term 'programmatic' brings concern to many as there is a belief that automating the buying and selling process could lead us all to future careers as Walmart greeters.

So, what exactly is programmatic? It is a term we have all heard, however, we all seem to have various interpretations of its meaning. Josh referenced Jimmy Kimmel at ABC TV's upfront when he joked 'Programmatic buying is the gluten of advertising. Like gluten, 'programmatic' has become a buzzword that many people use but few really understand.' Perhaps Stuart summed it up best when he mentioned that the term programmatic is getting in the way of what broadcasters are trying to do―making sure advertisers can access engaged audiences at the right time wherever they may be. Don't get hung up on the definition; the outcome is what's most important on how advertisers can best use a broadcaster's content to drive their businesses.

To set the tone for the panel discussion, in his opening remarks ABCOM's President Andrew Grant got us all on the same page by describing the term as 'Programmatic by definition is the automation of buying, placement and optimization of media inventory'. He then posed a few questions like 'It has become a standard of doing business in the digital space, but could it also be the way of the future in broadcast?' and 'Can broadcast in Canada even move towards legitimately data-driven programmatic solutions?'.

Panelists listed some of the many benefits of automating the system, such as it increases the workflow efficiencies by getting a buy through the 'eco-system' a lot quicker than in the manual way; it has the potential of developing a single view of the consumer across multiple platforms that can enhance an agency's strategic execution; it has higher revenues for a broadcaster in conjunction with more efficient CPMs for the advertisers; as well as setting the base for addressable TV advertising though set-top boxes.  From a radio perspective, the level and sophistication of data that a radio station can access on a digital level is far superior than the current 'terrestrial' data available. Being able to layer customized messaging based on all these data points will become crucial to advertisers over the next few years.

The panel addressed some of the baby steps being taken with programmatic within the linear TV space in Canada. Some of the challenges mentioned were: deals must be in place with multiple regional distributors; the problem of targeted ads bumping previously scheduled commercials; and the current infrastructure. Keith, representing the lone American company on the panel gave the audience an overview of an American automated linear TV buying system already in place with opted in local TV broadcasters.

Is automation the answer to all plans? Not according to Genevieve who believes that it is not always the solution―sometimes you need to secure the inventory and buy direct. Automation is there to manage the supply and demand. There was consensus that automation of the 'process' is still about 18 months away in Canada, however that does not take into account the buy/sell element. Furthermore, Michka believes relationships will matter more in three years than they do today as the value of human touch could never be replaced by 'robots'. Even while the process is being automated, relationships will always matter.

Since negotiations will become more complex than they are today, shifting skill-sets will require greater emphasis on comfort with data as well as reading insights into the analyses, understanding the limitations of the technology, and creative solutions to rise above the noise in a more efficient manner. Dunner added that audience segmentation and data analysis are going to be compounded in the future. Radio will become a bigger player in the digital discussion and when it comes to programmatic, the end goal is to make it easier for clients to access optimal inventory by using more data layers.

The panel also touched on various other topics that will have an impact on broadcast over the next few years.  I've noted some of the more memorable comments below.

Regarding addressable ads, Keith said it best: as a term, it is as sensitive as programmatic in its varied definitions. Stuart thinks addressability should be looked at as 'in addition to' and not 'in replacement of' one to many and feels that it has yet to be established that buying niche audiences is more effective than buying mass audiences. He believes hyper-targeted messaging may hamper greater brand building, while clarifying addressability is a different conversation than automation.

Michka believes that cross-referencing set-top box data infused with data from other sources is invaluable. Dunner went on to explain that with all the additional information about radio listeners sourced through digital platforms, it allows for setting very defined goals for digital benchmarks and hence expectations of engagement. Digital provides so much more information in terms of making broadcasters' products better and more valuable to advertisers.

As for real time bidding (RTB), no panelist thought it was going to become the new economic model similar to the digital space. RTB introduced so many intermediaries into the process and broadcast will surely learn from all the mistakes made in the digital world. The TV broadcasters on the panel pointed out that stations are very protective of their inventory and will not bring in third parties into the system.   

Although cross-platform measurement is interesting, it is not all encompassing. It assumes all impressions are created equal which of course they are not. It was agreed that for any impression to be impactful, it must be next to great content. The question was posed that where on the reach curve is it viable to pay for a higher CPM?

An additional key takeaway from the event, echoed by many on the panel was that our jobs are safe! At least for several years to come and in the end it will require even more human capital with dynamic shifted skill sets to navigate the world of automation.

I must say, walking into the panel discussion, I felt Jimmy Kimmel's joke was targeted to me…..I kinda knew what programmatic meant but wasn't totally versed in all the details, struggling to grasp the industry's roll-out strategy and the ramifications both good and bad. By the time I walked out of the session, I felt much more knowledgeable on what it all means. With any luck, ABCOM's next session will be on gluten!   

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