The Idea that Broadcasters Have Anchored Themselves in Legacy Positions is Nonsense

UK broadcaster ITV last November announced ‘Planet V’, a new addressable advertising platform developed in partnership with Amobee, a multichannel advertising platform. To help with the rollout of Planet V, Rhys McLachlan, previously head of global TV strategy at Amobee, made the jump over to ITV, where he now works as director of advanced advertising.

VAN spoke with McLachlan to hear more about ITV’s ambitions for Planet V, as well as his thoughts on broadcaster collaboration, and the differences he’s noticed between the ad tech world and the broadcaster world.

ITV’s Planet V has been rolling out over the course of the year, what stage is it at right now?

ITV planned for a phased delivery, we weren’t planning on a full release until later in the year anyway, so we’re still on schedule and haven’t been set back by the pandemic.

What has been really encouraging is that we’ve had the platform operating in-house as a concierge service for about six weeks now. Our ITV ad ops team are acting as proxy users of the platform for the booking, administration and management of campaigns that come in via our direct I/O channels.

That’s enabled us to rigorously in-house, test, troubleshoot and debug all components of it until we’re confident we can release it into the agency wild-lands.

So there is a sizable volume of activity that is already being managed through the platform, and that gives us real confidence that the platform is operationally fit for purpose. But we’re not going to release it fully until we’re sure it’s at a gold standard operating capacity.

How does buying through Planet V differ from buying a more conventional digital campaign?

We’re delivering a full end-to-end solution, so buyers will access it in a self-service capacity via a cloud facility. They will have different permissions and different configurations of the platform depending on the agency group, and their relationship with ITV. All pricing will be either pre-configured or dynamic based on the permissions and relationships with the agency, so there will be no auction-based mechanisms in there. And the inventory will be sourced exclusively from the ITV Hub at launch, though we have well developed lines of dialogue with other publisher partners who may be looking to participate later in the year.

The data we use is ITV Hub registered user data, so it’s all privacy-compliant. And the segmentation of inventory will be predicated on both the taxonomy around how we are segmenting our audiences from that user data, and from the metadata related to the content.

We also have relationships with third-party data providers which will allow us to do more sophisticated postcode-based targeting, as well as a facility later this year to enable clients to bring their own data, and match their IDs to our IDs via a secure third-party. Again, that will be based on the permissions that have been agreed with those clients and agency groups.

You mentioned ITV is having conversations with potential partners for Planet V. How vital is it for broadcasters to collaborate on these sorts of initiatives?

I think it is vital, but it’s complex, and we have to acknowledge that complexity. It’s important that all parties maintain sovereignty through collaboration, but collaboration is a necessity for the industry.

United we stand, divided we fall. We are increasingly competitive not just within the market with each other. But there’s a steady drip of revenue that goes directly to the West coast giants. And those businesses don’t collaborate. If you want to buy Google, you have to buy Google. If you want to buy Facebook, you have to buy Facebook. If you want to buy TV, we compete with each other, and cannibalise ourselves.

So there are a set of standards we should be aligning around, on data, technology, inventory quality, access and buyer provisions. That will enable us to at least work to a consistent framework which benefits us all, allows us to be competitive, and allows us to maintain that critical element of sovereignty, while all pulling in the same direction for the benefit of TV.

But it is complicated. And we’re not so arrogant as to say it’s Planet V or nothing. But there is genuinely and sincerely a pillar of altruism in what we’re doing with Planet V. It’s a technology that is being built for and by the television industry. Let’s not forget that the standalone technology layer is used by broadcasters in the US, Canada, and APAC region. So the DNA of Planet V is TV. And we’ve been committed to opening the doors to participation from other players in the market.

But up until now, efforts to collaborate have been stop-start at best, or have lacked meaningful application. And one would imagine it’s easy enough to align against a set of technology standards. We do it with Clearcast, where we align against the same set of rules, so there’s precedent. But it’s incumbent on all of us to be committed to overcoming those complexities.

TV in the UK hasn’t been disintermediated to the extent that other media channels have by those large US-based technology businesses. We’re still able to operate from an offensive position, rather than a defensive position. But that requires us to set aside some of the old grievances and historical ego-based challenges, to collaborate in a meaningful way.

Is ITV planning on releasing an addressable advertising solution for traditional linear TV?

It’s on this side of the horizon. It’s part of the phased delivery for Planet V, which over time will become the enabler for all our advanced advertising work streams. That includes conventional linear addressable across all platforms, as well as in the nearer term simulcast linear addressable solutions. Large volumes of our viewing on Hub in smart TV environments are simulcast streamed. And dynamic ad insertion (DAI) solutions are already enabled in most of those environments.

What we’re looking to achieve is the consolidation of those buying modes through a consistent technology platform, Planet V, with a common TV ID that is consistent, and helps us to join the dots between all of those modes. It’s a singular addressable proposition that works across all devices and viewing modes.

We’ve reports of advertisers switching to performance-based campaigns during the pandemic. Is this what ITV is seeing?

The best way of describing what we’re seeing is a requirement for more fluidity to allocate budget throughout the funnel.

TV remains without parallel in its ability to drive mass simultaneous reach, and ITV is the UK’s biggest entity for delivering that. But what we’re seeing is clients who are wanting to be more agile and smarter in how they work the customer journey, from mass simultaneous reach through to frequency management and message control, using channels with a greater sense of dexterity and fluidity than you necessarily usually get from linear TV.

So while we’ve seen headlines grabbed by some companies who have gone all in on performance-based marketing, a lot of bigger businesses are using the current environment to do a tonne of brand building. TV is cheaper than it’s ever been, so there’s incredibly good value to be found on linear TV to establish brand stature and consolidate around big brand messaging. But then brands are using smarter technology and data driven channels to better target performance based metrics, but doing so in a way which joins the dots between from those big brand-building elements through to purchase and advocacy.

So it’s been a catalyst for the normalisation of those expectations.

And of course linear viewing is up across the board, as is VOD viewing. So there’s much greater capacity to do smarter and more intellectually challenging things which previously might have been too cost-prohibitive and risky.

How is ITV preparing for a world without third-party cookies?

By designing for it from the outset. ITV has never been a business that has had a big relationship with the cookie environment, more often than not through the nature of its distribution. Historically it’s been delivered over satellite bandwidth and down cable pipes, and the validation of that has usually been panel-based. So we’ve not had to undertake significant structural changes to be fit-for purpose for a post-cookie world.

Some of our partners might use cookie-based solutions that we’ll find workarounds for, but there are specialist third-party agents who will do that. We’re not going to try to retrofit cookie-based solutions into a platform which is forward-looking in its design.

How does the new distribution landscape, where viewing is split across traditional TV, a variety of OTT devices, desktop, and mobile, change dynamics for broadcasters?

There’s going to be device fragmentation, and the idea of TV anywhere at any time will become normalised. I think we’re well down that path already, that’s not news to anybody.

The commercial challenge is how do you harmonise all those pieces? Because you have different technology standards, different integrations, different advertising protocols and processes, different IDs or measurement components. So for an effective viewer experience and an effective advertising campaign, the critical question is how do you join the dots between all those devices and viewing modes, and harmonise them as a singular cohesive and compelling advertising experience for your commercial customers.

What have been the cultural differences you’ve noticed since moving from an ad tech company to the TV side?

One thing that has struck me is that broadcasters, and this goes beyond just ITV, all know what they don’t know, and they have plans to address it.

This idea that broadcasters are all luddites that have anchored themselves in legacy positions, and they’ll all be screwed when we move to an IP-delivered media landscape, that’s a foolhardy position for any technology business to adopt. TV has seen what’s coming down the line, and has been able to be able to prepare for it.

It’s about making the right moves at the right time with the right partnerships. And I’d suggest Planet V is indicative of a well-considered strategy for ITV that’s been in the making for two and a half years.

This idea that TV needs to be disrupted and reinvented is nonsense. The TV businesses have incredibly smart people in them, because they have huge media operations. And they all have strategies around what TV will look like in 2023, 2025, even 2030.

Therefore they have roadmaps for technology, for operations, for the commercial constructs that need to be developed now so they’re fit for purpose when these transformations roll out.

So a lot of people in the ad tech world think TV is going to be ripe for the plucking, but that’s nonsense.

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