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Programmatic TV’s Journey Into Primetime

3/30/2015 8:00 AM Eastern

Based on all the headlines we’ve seen in recent months, you could be forgiven for thinking that programmatic is already taking the TV industry by storm. And, to be sure, the time will come — probably sooner rather than later — when programmatic becomes a dominant force in television advertising.

 

After all, it’s not hard to imagine a moment when a TV is thought of as just one more screen for streaming your favorite content. When that happens, programmatic will certainly take center stage. But, at the moment, broadcast TV is alive and well, and programmatic TV is still in its infancy.

 

Despite its youth, automated purchasing and placement is starting to make its way in the $70 billion TV ad market. But there are still areas where programmatic TV falls short.

 

By now most marketers are familiar with programmatic buying on digital platforms. The programmatic revolution in digital has ultimately been about data and the various ways marketers can use that data to deliver ads to the right people.

 

The obvious question about programmatic TV, then, is whether it’s really possible at all, considering that the data and infrastructure of DSPs, exchanges and real-time bidding don’t yet exist for TV. As experts have noted, what is considered programmatic in digital isn’t really taking place in the TV world. The evolution toward programmatic television is still in its crawl phase.

 

Of course, just because TV advertising can’t go fully programmatic quite yet doesn’t mean the process hasn’t begun. Significant changes can already be seen taking place in programmatic TV.

 

In its current form, programmatic TV really amounts to making better use of data within TV’s current ad-buying infrastructure so marketers can do a better job of matching inventory to target audiences. Such targeting may not be “programmatic” in the full sense of the word, but more advanced targeting that takes TV beyond “age” and “gender” is itself a major step forward for a system that has remained unchanged for so long. Going beyond those parameters is a major progression for the television advertising industry.

 

Despite this progress, there is still a fair amount of distance to travel. There are more options available today than ever before for buying ads on a number of cable networks and viewing the entire available inventory, but the tracking of the ads is still done manually. TV networks also have to approve every ad, making true automation impossible.

 

Still, if the current ad-buying process isn’t seamless, it incorporates more data than traditional TV buying and it’s certainly less cumbersome. Rather than dismissing programmatic TV as mere hype, it’s time to recognize important steps are being made. True programmatic TV isn’t a reality just yet, but there’s little doubt it’s on the way.

 

Bryan Bartlett is editor in chief/marketing manager of Chango, a Chicago-based programmatic advertising company.

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