Why innovations in online video dictate a new approach to TV

London Live: if successful it could pave the way for more niche TV channels
London Live: if successful it could pave the way for more niche TV channels

TV, traditionally the blunt-edged weapon in the media agency's armoury, is becoming more rapier-like, and now it's time to rethink how it mixes with online video, says Neil Cunningham, head of digital at Cream UK.

Take the recent launch of London Live, the TV channel from the owners of the London Evening Standard. If London Live is a success, then more niche channels may follow, allowing advertisers a more precise means to target their ads than before.

Another example is Sky AdSmart, which launched last summer. Delivered via Sky's seven million Sky+ boxes, AdSmart allows advertisers to target their ads based on demographic information supplied by Sky+ households. In time, the targeting options open to advertisers on AdSmart will get increasingly sophisticated and the plethora of smart set-top boxes from Google, BT/Talk Talk,

Apple, and most recently Amazon, will broaden the available market for this more precisely targeted TV advertising. 

One of the major benefits of TV sharpening up in this manner is that it makes it more attractive to small and medium-sized advertisers – particularly premium and luxury brands for whom the wastage of TV has always been an issue.

So might now be the time to recommend TV to smaller premium clients – supplemented, of course, by online video to increase frequency and add an element of measurability to the campaign? The answer is "yes", but we'd argue that this "TV first, online video second" approach should be turned on its head. Here's why.

Online video is growing in popularity amongst our clients. As the likes of the Mail, The Guardian and MTV have entered the market, question marks about the availability of premium environments have got smaller. And there's no doubt that a moving image is the best way to showcase a premium brand – we recommend our clients introduce video to as many ad units as they can. 

The other driving force behind the surge in online video's popularity is the data available to allow for more precise targeting. The third-party data available to overlay is getting ever more sophisticated. Demographic, geographic and behavioural data is now been supplemented by the likes of Bizo, which enables you to target by career seniority. And if the UK follows the example of the US, anonymized MasterCard transactional data could become available too.

It's not just the data available for targeting that makes online video attractive but the data available on performance – viewability, dwell rates, dwell times and client site-side metrics such as traffic quality and conversions. And that's why we'd recommend clients test online video before they dip their toes into the waters of the new, more targeted world of TV.

If premium brands take the "online video first" approach, they'll understand how audiences are reacting to their content in real time and what impact it's having on key metrics. They can cheaply, easily and quickly test and tweak their content to deliver something that better resonates with their audience.

And then, once they've optimised their content, they can scale up – whether by distributing via earned channels or via TV. Much better to learn their lessons in the lower-cost, lower-risk and faster-turnaround online environment rather than the expensive, one-hit, metric-poor environment of TV.

At a time when premium marketers are challenged to prove that every pound spent is delivering a return, it makes sense to recommend an "online video first" over a "TV first" approach (although agencies who prioritise fulfilling commitments to ITV Player and 4OD over genuine innovation and testing may baulk.)

And there's a second benefit too. As time moves on, TV will be increasingly bought programmatically against specific audiences. Those agencies and brands that spend the transition period learning about which digital levers do what will have an healthy head start as the worlds of TV advertising and online video begin to merge.

Neil Cunningham is head of digital at Cream UK

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