European Broadcasters Discuss How They’re Cautiously Edging Towards Programmatic TV in Cannes

[Sponsored Post] One of the things you notice each year at the Cannes Lions is that local knowledge still counts for something and the French companies there often have the inside track on where is best to hold events and set up base. This year Comcast benefited from the acquisition of, originally a French start-up, who hosted a VIP lunch on an island across from Cannes with their new friends at FreeWheel (also owned by Comcast).

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One of the topics of discussion at the lunch was the rise of programmatic TV. Hervé Brunet,’s CEO & co-founder,  said that TV advertising would have to keep pace both with developments in online advertising and with the buy-side’s ever-evolving requirements. “Marketers want to reach their audiences anytime, anywhere. The programmatic TV playground is expanding rapidly with the rise of connected devices. In order to stay competitive, broadcasters need to take a multiscreen approach towards content delivery and leverage programmatic efficiency (providing further automation and data-driven tools) to better understand their video content value. Ultimately, they will gain greater control and also drive revenue growth beyond the TV screen. So programmatic TV isn’t just about data and technology, it’s about incremental revenue.”

Hervé Brunet, CEO,
Hervé Brunet, CEO,

When it comes to implementing programmatic TV, Thomas Brémond, European Managing Director at FreeWheel, noted how it was going to require the various parts of the TV industry to deepen their relationships and work together in ways that they haven’t before. “Programmatic TV means operators and broadcasters coming together around a common goal and therefore broadcasters that wish to take advantage of programmatic TV must start thinking of their engagements with their distribution partners.”

Thomas Brémond, European Managing Director, FreeWheel
Thomas Brémond, European Managing Director, FreeWheel,

The attendees were drawn from some of the world’s largest broadcasters, brands and ad tech partners. When going around the tables I discussed the future of programmatic TV (PTV) with some of the broadcasters. While all had the good sense to not say anything on the record when they had a glass of rosé in hand, it was interesting to gauge the different reactions in the various markets.

That said, they had much in common too and there were three themes. Firstly, while all felt some level of automation was inevitable, one person raised the question of how far the industry was going to have to run take it in the short to medium term, saying he believes that even the most well-targeted online advertising struggles to have the same brand impact that TV has. Put simply, TV isn’t just about reach and the hardware still matters, as the reality is that a large high quality screen with surround sound simply delivers a more powerful punch for advertisers.

Secondly, another said that the first generation of PTV ad tech wasn’t compelling enough just at this point, while conceding that it was likely to quickly become more interesting as it evolve. He also said he believed that much of the groundwork had already been done in video and display, which would help speed up the shift to automation TV advertising.

Thirdly, everyone I spoke to saw an opportunity for incremental revenue. Historically speaking, one concern with data-driven advertising has always been that the buy-side’s efficiency would lead to a reduction in spend, or that advertisers would cherry-pick inventory. However, developments around private exchanges and programmatic direct have helped allay these fears since the early days of programmatic, when it was envisaged that one day everything would be traded via open RTB.

As we have written on these pages many times before, programmatic TV is going evolve very differently in each of the European markets, mainly because due to the infrastructure requirements, whether it’s the capabilities of the set-top boxes being used, the availability of IPTV, or the adoption of the HbbTV standard. However, culture is likely to play an equally important role. When asked about how the different markets were evolving, a TV executive of a major European broadcaster once told me. “It’s quite simple. If you want to anticipate how quickly a market is likely to evolve, all you have to remember is that the French are French, the Germans are German and the Dutch are Dutch. If you understand the culture, you’ll understand the market.”

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