My good friend Pierre Bouvard circulated an article on LinkedIn that was published in Ad Age titled “Programmatic TV: Lots of Talk Lately, Not Much Real Action.” We know what happens in TV land trickles down to radio. That’s what got me thinking about the impact that programmatic buying might make on the radio industry.
First, if you haven’t heard the term, programmatic buying is letting computers buy advertising time. This type of advertising placement is already pretty commonplace in the online world. It can take the form of data-driven real-time purchasing, online auctions or private exchanges, with transactions handled by machines according to Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer at GroupM. It’s fast, efficient and needs no human sellers.
The large radio companies have been trimming the work force since the beginning of the “Great Recession.” Don’t waste a good crisis was the way one radio industry leader put it at a meeting I attended. Meaning, when the economy is in the dumper and all companies are trimming their expenses to survive, you can use this type of environment to make lots of cuts; especially through RIFs (Reduction In Force).
Computer automation equipment, voice-tracking, syndication, and networking has all replaced live and local radio program origination. However, when it came to ad revenue, the personnel has largely remained intact. Could programmatic buying do to radio sales staffs what the aforementioned computerization did to programming staffs?
The short answer is yes.
At the end of the last decade I watched Google’s ad insertion system place ads onto my radio stations in the very early morning hours. Google’s hardware recorded air checks of every ad they placed on my stations and Google was able to give their advertisers not just a paper verification of the ad running but air checks of every ad, run on every station. Something my local sellers could not do for their clients. It was impressive.
The downside was Google had no idea where anything was in my state and so many of the ads were not appropriate to be airing on my stations for any number of reasons; the most important reason was that business was a hundred miles or more away.
Now while I realize that what I’m talking about here is more programmatic ad placement than programmatic ad buying, I’m making the assumption that the selling of those ads were executed in a similar manner; via automation like Google sells online.
The Ad Age article stated that one big reason that programmatic buying of TV would be a ways off was due to “TV networks also still need to approve the ads before they run, both for standards and to make sure they fit with the surrounding programming. That step doesn’t exist in programmatic ad sales online.”
Remember when radio stations had program directors that listened to everything that would go out over their airwaves to make sure that it met their standards and made sure it fit with the surrounding programming? Ah, the good old days of radio. That attention to detail is why radio sounded so good.
The Google experience taught me that even as a market manager, I no longer had any control over what might be heard over my air. Automated ad insertion is why streaming commercial breaks might air the same commercial multiple times during the same break. It’s a reason that many listeners find listening to over-the-air radio stations online so annoying. (I know I do)
ESPN’s Eric Johnson put it this way: “Programmatic buying means a lot of things to a lot of people. It includes providing some automation to the buying and selling process.”
For radio, only one thing has ever mattered; what comes out of the listener’s speaker. My fear is that as radio continues to abandon this critical aspect of its product in the pursuit of saving money it will kill the goose that lays the golden egg. No one is looking out for the radio listener and in a world of infinite choice, the listener will simply go elsewhere.
You can’t save your way to success.