Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Reaching for a new ad model

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast March 29, 2012

Google’s bid to rival Barb points to the future of TV, says Kate Bulkley.

For an industry that spends so long staring hard at TV screens, it’s sometimes an advantage to look at things from a different angle. At the Guardian Changing Media Summit conference last week, views about the future worlds of TV and digital media clashed for the umpteenth time, but I found myself listening intently to Mark Howe, a Google executive who was a TV guy in the UK for almost 20 years before joining the Silicon Valley set six years ago.

Howe was speaking on a panel about how the industry will have changed by the year 2020, and while his version of the future is grounded with knowledge of the past, he doesn’t look back when he talks about where the industry is heading.

News to emerge was that Google is launching a 3,000-home audience panel in the UK to measure what people watch on TV, as well as what they do on other screens. “Barb isn’t moving fast enough,” said Howe – a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree. The Google panel is in its infancy but it’s setting out to measure consumer behaviour more accurately than what we are getting now.

It’s time we listened a bit more closely to these kind of ideas as we debate the growing influence of connected TVs and how increasing consumer power is changing the experience we used to call ‘watching TV’.

We all know that the big audiences and the big ad money still goes to the peak slots on ITV, but Howe and Claire Tavernier of Fremantle Media both contend that the definition of reach is changing. Howe said: “I don’t buy the idea that large reach can only be found on ITV in primetime, because you can get a 7% cover to any TV campaign by putting a home page on YouTube.”

Reach is becoming more valuable and more spread out, added Tavernier. “Brands and advertisers are looking at their marketing mix in a much more holistic way,” she said. “They are thinking of a port-folio of engagement with the consumer, so they want ITV at 6pm, but they also want the application online around The X Factor (pictured) and to be on Facebook and Twitter as well. And they want all that for the same price that they paid for the ITV ad space – which is where it gets tricky for us to manage.”

Consumers may be multi-tasking and using their second screens like their first (TV) screen, but the big question is when the advertising and brand money shifts.

TV ad income in the UK hasn’t changed much in the past eight years (steady at around £3.5bn) while the online equivalent has grown tremendously and is forecast to reach £5bn this year. So big changes are needed on TV trading desks and in media agencies.

But while Howe predicts that TV will still have premium salespeople who will sell inventory around big shows such as The X Factor, he believes the rest of the ad slots will inevitably move towards the biddable, auction-based model, as used in the search world today.

It’s an interesting idea and, as with many questions these days, perhaps broadcasters will soon find themselves turning to Google for the answers.

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