60 years since the first TV advert was broadcast for Gibbs SR toothpaste, the medium has become a part of Britain’s zeitgeist. From Guinness’ award-winning sports campaigns, to the romantic Milk Tray Man, and the annual return of the Coca-Cola truck, television advertising thrives on tapping into contemporary culture.

While our appetite for quality TV ad content is still huge, the way brands approach the consumer has changed radically since the first ad was delivered back in 1955. For years, television has stuck to blasting out ad content alongside a programme in the hope that it’s being watched by the right audience. However, the proliferation of screen devices and the rise of the ‘always-on consumer’ have presented a challenge for today’s ad execs. While television may have set the tone for engaging advertising, online channels can now provide far better consumer targeting, at scale, thanks to programmatic technology.

This could have been the death knell for TV advertising, but the medium is now adapting and coming round to the idea of programmatic. Not before time either, as 91 per cent of brands and agencies are now buying at least some of their video programmatically, according to research from AOL.

Where are we now?

Programmatic TV advertising in the UK is still in its infancy, largely confined to video-on-demand (VoD) services. However, the US is seeing players like DISH launch a programmatic media-buying platform that enables advertisers to buy individual impressions via real-time bidding. Progress is being made and as this technology continues to mature, programmatic TV will become standard and the marketplace will be revolutionised.

Learning lessons from the world of online

In today’s media-rich world of ‘information overload’, the reach of an ad is still high on advertisers’ list of priorities, but targeting has leap-frogged it in the hierarchy. The mass, untargeted distribution of television ads won’t cut it for much longer. Brands are looking to invest in advertising that targets customers effectively, ultimately delivering the content that is most appealing and engaging to each consumer.

With its roots in the world of display advertising, programmatic has a proven track record. With the two-way flow of data from web browser to server and vice versa, advertisers can ensure they reach the right consumer at the right time. Throwing mobile into the mix, online advertising has even progressed to location-based targeting, further refining ad delivery. Going one step further, marrying data from desktops to mobile as consumers move between devices, brings individual targeting even closer to reality.

The unifying factor is control, with on-point targeting in every circumstance reducing wasted output, delivering maximum results, and bringing more bang for a brand’s buck. This benefits the consumer as well, as better targeted ad content means they’ll be served adverts that specifically interest and engage them, rather than an endless stream of miscellaneous content.

A win win situation, and understandably more appealing to increasingly cash-strapped advertisers than the seeming hit-and-hope approach of previous TV campaigns.

A growing opportunity

Programmatic advertising is still developing, even in the online video space. According to the IAB, programmatic ad revenues made up 20 per cent of global online ad spend last year, and 80 per cent of that total was dedicated to display advertising rather than video. This means that only around 4 per cent of online ad spending went towards programmatic video.

There is still some way to go with online video, but that makes the programmatic TV opportunity greater for advertisers and brands. There’s a real chance to get ahead of the competition and make television advertising tailored and relevant.

Online video content is often quoted as a major spanner in the works of the television sector. Hesitant advertisers worry that TV programming and advertising are threatened by the whenever-you-want approach of video websites, but the research disagrees. In 2014, the majority (86%) of television programmes in the UK were still watched on a TV set, according to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB). The opportunity is there right now – there are no more excuses for advertisers.

Get with the programmatic

Programmatically served content is the fundamental to the future of advertising. Brands need to get on board to thrive as the industry moves forward, whether they’re focusing on TV or the online space.

Creative video content is what consumers engage with, but this creativity needs programmatic in order to reach the level of targeting needed to give efficient return on investment. It means the right content reaches the right people, an offering today’s advertisers cannot refuse!

Dwight Ringdahl

Dwight Ringdahl


Dwight Ringdahl is Senior Vice President, Technology, RhythmOne.