Viacom, CBS and Fox have made progress in their pursuit of creating targeted, addressable TV advertising solutions, but their experiments remain in the early stages and carry just a small amount of inventory, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter. The networks are specifically brokering deals with pay-TV providers to serve a small portion of their national inventory as targeted ads.
CBS plans to make its targeted TV products available to some advertiser partners over the next 12 months and Fox aims to activate a form of targeted ads during its live programming, having held talks with pay-TV providers and tech companies that specialize in advertising on smart TVs, sources told the Journal. Viacom has piloted similar technology through in-house promotional ads, which the media owner behind brands like MTV and Nickelodeon will offer to more advertisers in the near future, per the Journal.
Despite these deals, addressable TV products will not take center stage for most of the major players at this year's upfronts, which just commenced and includes a series of expensive, glitzy presentations the networks annually put on to sell advertisers on their content and secure ad commitments ahead of time. Still, the Journal's report paints a clearer picture of when more scalable advanced TV solutions could be viable.
Marketers and networks alike have been pining for years for targeted TV advertising products that will serve different creative assets and messages to viewers in more granular ways than the traditionally broad demographic parameters linear TV has allowed. The Journal report suggests that the advanced TV space, which encompasses addressable, targeted TV and has seen strong growth recently, commanding more than $2 billion in spending in 2018, still isn't quite ready for the mainstream.
The upfronts season is critical for companies like Viacom, CBS and Fox, and last year led to more than $20 billion in ad commitments, The New York Times reported. Digital products and platforms have gained a bigger presence at the show in recent years as cord cutting has accelerated and companies like Google and Facebook win over a greater amount of ad dollars. Other innovations, like NBCUniversal's unveiling of national broadcast TV's first shoppable advertising platform, have made a splash so far this year. But it appears as though targeted TV advertising will not be a central part of TV's dog-and-pony show this week.
Other recent industry developments point to how the traditional networks, many of which are experiencing steep ratings declines and seeing their median audiences age up, are still hedging their bets on an advanced TV future. Like any quickly evolving space, however, advanced TV remains highly fragmented and lacking in the bedrock standards that linear TV has built over decades.
Two years ago, Time Warner, Viacom and Fox Networks Group formed a coalition called OpenAP to help the industry standardize advanced TV advertising. The group, which later added Comascast's NBCUniversal as a partner, saw WarnerMedia drop out in April. AT&T rebranded Time Warner to WarnerMedia following its acquisition of the network earlier this year. It's suspected that the unit pulled out of OpenAP to focus on developing addressable TV products through Xandr, AT&T's advertising division that looks to better compete with Facebook and Google.
While the loss of WarnerMedia is a potentially significant blow to achieving industry-wide standardization, OpenAP has retained its other members and made moves to push its initiative forward. The group last week named David Levy, a Fox executive with expertise in navigating digital advertising, as its first chief executive.