Programmatic Buying: The Next Big Thing for Television Advertising?

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What did you think about this year’s lineup of Super Bowl commercials? Aside from the lackluster attempts at comedy (or lack thereof in the case of Nationwide Insurance), I found many of them to be unappealing and irrelevant to me. While advertising on a massive scale like the Super Bowl can’t speak to all audiences simultaneously, what if there was a way to better match my interests to the ads shown to me? Enter programmatic buying.

Many online publishers are already getting involved in the increasingly competitive game of offering more targeted and cost-effective advertising packages through contextually relevant real-time bidding known as programmatic buying. With that in mind, programmatic has the potential to help out-of-home advertisers take advantage of the country’s most-watched TV events without blowing their entire year’s budget by gambling it all on one commercial.

Thinking of the real-world possibilities of programmatic buying for the Super Bowl, what if Oreo had had the opportunity to buy a spot for its famous “you can still dunk in the dark” tweet that was shared during the Super Bowl XLVII power outage? Their commercial would become as significantly compelling as the real-time game. While the football superstars battle it out on the field, marketing executives could be battling it out in boardrooms to get their perfectly relatable ads out to the current target audience.








In fact, ESPN, the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader” in sports has already begun auctioning off ad spots for its popular show, SportsCenter. While this may seem only like an initial step, it’s a big step when it comes to uniting TV, sports, and programmatic buying. The most recent proof of programmatic merging into television ads is TurboTax. The company is the first official programmatic ad buyer on SportsCenter and used a web-based real-time bidding auction to purchase its Super Bowl ad placement this year. The ad didn’t run during a standard commercial break, but ran instead while anchors said they “will be right back in 30 seconds.” During that time slot, the camera panned to a giant video screen that played the TurboTax ad. Other programmatic participants included USA Today’s online sports section and Time Inc.’s digital platforms, particularly Sports Illustrated’s

However, every new opportunity is not without its roadblocks. This year a 30-second Super Bowl commercial spot cost $4.5 million, with 95% of inventory already sold out a month before the game. Typically, for big events like the Super Bowl, advertisers try to create ads tailored to the event, so it would be a big gamble to produce an ad targeted to the theme, bid, and then potentially lose the space (and the money). This uncertainty could deter companies from being too creative, and encourage a more generally conservative approach verse the usual all-out creative battle to be the best commercial during the game. So, ultimately there is too much guaranteed money to be made by networks for it to be all left up to real-time programmatic gambling.

However, it is generally safe to say that even though the automated purchasing technique might be a slower transition, the efficiency and targeting benefits of it will be too great for advertisers to ignore forever. As long as advertisers are able to see the value in programmatic buying and consumers are able to appreciate the relevance and personalization of it, programmatic will gain a foothold. Between the world of sports and the world of advertising, technology will indisputably be a major catalyst in their combined progression.

Jessica Zhang
Just Media, Inc.

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