TVN Focus On Advertising | TVB Driving Impressions-Based Ad Buying

“In our current multiplatform world, everything is now being sold on an impression basis except linear TV,” says TVB President Steve Lanzano. “We want local TV stations and the ad agencies to be able to sell and buy that way, too. We have been working with the buying agencies for some time behind the scenes and now we are going public.”

TVB is trying to make a big impression about impressions.

In the run up to its annual conference in New York next week (Sept. 26), it has been extolling the virtues of buying spot TV using impressions rather than the conventional ratings points — last week in a story that appeared in Variety and today in a press release that will go wide.

And at the Forward Conference itself, the drum beat will continue as TVB plans to underscore the need for impressions-based buying in the speeches and panels for the expected 600 broadcasting and advertising executives.

Some agencies are already on board, but others have been dragging their feet on conversion. They are the targets of the TVB campaign.

“In our current multiplatform world, everything is now being sold on an impression basis except linear TV,” says TVB President Steve Lanzano. “We want local TV stations and the ad agencies to be able to sell and buy that way, too. We have been working with the buying agencies for some time behind the scenes and now we are going public.”

The behind-the-scenes efforts began last year when TVB twice met with the 4A’s Local Video/Audio Committee – once on the why and once on the how, Lanzano says. “We are now acting as a consultant to the other agencies to help them.”


It’s not easy for any agency to make the switch after buying with ratings for 50 or 60 years, “even though it makes all the sense in the world to do it,” he says.

“Some agencies ripped the Band-Aid off and go, and with others, it’s going to be more of an evolution. They will do a couple of clients here, a couple of clients there and they’ll get up to speed as they get their software and processes in place to do it.”

If all goes well, TVB believes it can get most agencies to fall in line by the end of next year.

In concert with TVB, Hearst Television President Jordan Wertlieb is also arguing for a move to impressions as speedily as possible. “It’s important because it answers the marketplace’s desire to be able to interpret competitive media on an even playing field.

“There are so many sources of video available to advertisers,” he says. “Now, clearly broadcast video is the best source because it has quality content and large reach, but the industry recognizes that people are evaluating all sources of video and most of those other sources are digital and are sold on impressions. So, to have a fair evaluation, broadcasters are recognizing that impression-based selling would put our superior product in a positive light.”

The broadcasters will make their case, but the most powerful advocates of impressions may be the agencies that have already made the move. Among them are IPG’s Magna (UM and Initiative) and Dentsu Aegis’ Carat, which spend billions on local advertising and have been buying with impressions for the past few years.

IPG’s Magna, the centralized unit that develops and oversees data, investment strategies and ad buying for the two media agencies, first came up with the idea of buying spot using impressions in October 2013.

And, according to Kathy Doyle, EVP, local investment for Magna, who will appear on a TVB panel next week, Magna began buying with impressions on a trial basis in the first half of 2015.

By 2016, Doyle says all of UM clients — and some of Initiative’s — had moved to impressions. She expects all of Initiative’s to adopt the currency by 2020.

“We were the first agency by far to begin buying local TV this way,” she says.

She adds that not only does Magna buy local TV based on impressions, but it also buys local cable and radio.

Buying on impressions is more precise because they represent the actual number of viewers who saw a client’s ad, rather than just a percentage of a total audience watching TV who did, she says.

What’s more, ratings are rounded off to the nearest tenth of a percent, so it can actually undercount the number of people watching a show. And fewer viewers mean fewer dollars.

Proponents on the buy side also agree with broadcasters that impressions will facilitate cross-platform buying, allowing them to buy linear TV, OTT and other digital media at the same time.

Finally, Doyle says, as more and more people cut the cable and satellite cords, broadcast-only home viewers who watch off air are not being counted in the ratings.

“When we first started, not all the TV station groups were on board with selling us ads this way, but we told them it was not optional,” Doyle says. “They eventually came around.”

The only thing that has kept the move to impressions from becoming the standard for spot has been some agencies’ reluctance to tear up their old ways of doing business.

“I’m sure everyone would want to use just one standard impressions-based currency, but I don’t think there is still enough pressure and participation to establish only one right now,” Doyle says, adding that she is ready to help other media agencies with the transition.

Getting the impressions is not a problem as both Nielsen and Comscore make them available, Doyle says. “Nielsen is trying hard not to direct agencies or stations on how to use their data but they have been helpful to us when we did establish our impression-based methodology.”

Another media buying agency that jumped into impressions-based buying a few years back was Dentsu Aegis’ Carat.

Jennifer Hungerbuhler, EVP, managing director, local video and audio investment for Dentsu Aegis, says Carat first began using impressions in January 2017 and currently makes all its buys using them. “We did not encounter any pushback from any station.”

The shift to impressions was “a unified stance we took as an agency, she says. “We saw that increased audience fragmentation was leading to continued ratings erosion, and rather than limit our targeting ability and overlook those low-rated programs, we started looking at impressions.”

The impressions “allow us to look at a larger program selection locally, which ultimately increases targeting abilities as well as overall reach,” she says. “It also allows us to equally measure viewing across all platforms and markets.”

Kevin Gallagher, EVP and managing director of Spark Foundry, part of the Publicis Group, says his agency is not currently using impressions, but recognizes that they are the future and that they will “harmonize the buys across digital and linear TV.”

“Ratings have been ingrained in our buying culture for so long. It is just going to take time for everyone to get on the same page with the math to make the conversion. There’s no reason why we can’t or shouldn’t do it. We’re close, but not there yet.”

Another major agency group “evolving toward” converting is WPP’s GroupM agencies, says Cindylynn Hermann, managing partner and director of local investment at GroupM. “But we really want to look at it holistically and not just make a buy and translate it to an impression.”

Hermann says rather than every agency having its own impressions-based buying system, she would like to see all agencies working with the same measurement system and defining impressions in the same way across all platforms. “We don’t want to do it on an ad hoc basis.”

Although TVB would like to see universal acceptance of impressions next year, the agencies, even the ones now using impressions, believe it will take a while longer. “It’s still a few years off,” says Hungerbuhler.

“There are quite a few factors that have slowed its rollout,” she says. “First and foremost is technology. Not every planning and buying software system has impression capabilities. Secondly, the learning curve — not only for clients, but training for planners, buyers and sellers takes time. And thirdly, building a new and revised workflow to accommodate impressions-based planning and buying with an agency can take time and support.”

Lanzano counters that impressions buying shouldn’t affect the planning. “Agency planners can still create plans based on GRPs and then convert them to impressions when the buy is transacted with the stations.”

Software for translating ratings to impressions is readily available, he says. “We are assisting agencies on how that can be done.”

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