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Linear and Programmatic TV are Meant to Go Together

By Eran Goren

You may or may not (depending on when you were born) remember the days of setting up a ‘black box’ to access cable channels? Or even watching your favorite program in black and white, and when you actually had to manually turn the dial?

In the current landscape of television, there is an abundance of choices in how people consume content. The available programs have grown exponentially in just the last few years.

With the ever-changing technology, this means advertising will continue to change, too.

Not only are there more companies and programs purchasing ad inventory, but there are also more ad spots available due to streaming across almost all households in America. When television was first becoming commonplace, ads were “one and done.” Businesses would create and film a commercial- and it would run over and over on the same channels- at the same time each day.

It’s incredible how much things have changed in just the past few decades regarding television and advertising. Today, advertisers can purchase a range of options for their multiple related ads and even alter them in real-time based on the digital data that tells them who is watching, paying attention, and skipping out of their intended ad placements.

There is a middle ground, though.

Linear television isn’t dead, and consumers know what’s happening with programmatic ads. Experts in the field would argue that traditional linear TV purchasing is a helpful complement to new programmatic streaming television options.

In this article, we’ll discuss these methods and how linear television can be a successful addition to programmatic streaming.


Linear Television – It’s Not Dead

Linear television still proves to be a more effective advertising platform in certain situations. For programs that bring real life to viewers’ homes right away, such as award programs, holiday parades, and sporting events, linear programs reach people all over the world at once. These programs are talked about when they’re happening, while people are consuming the content. In these situations, linear television has the lion’s share of power.

However, besides these high-profile offerings and events, cable and broadcast networks don’t always reach the masses. In 2018, for example, only five ad-supported networks reached over two million people. Just three of these had a reach of five million or more. Furthermore, there were 16 broadcast and cable networks that only had a reach between one and two million, and many others that didn’t even come close.

Ads purchased for live television has its limits with reach, frequency, and targeting. It’s deliverable power becomes fragmented and is often chalked up to the “spray and pray” method, where ads are broadcasted to wherever there is availability and the business hopes it reaches their target market. In this day and age, ads are recommended to be curated for the exact audience to stay competitive. However, when certain techniques come into play, linear tv advertising can still be effective.

Reconsidering traditional advertising, can save advertisers time, labor, and money. Companies use high-end algorithms to choose where to best place their ads for the best reach and effect. These algorithms, of course, are constantly developing, to ensure that they continue to provide the most updated technologically advanced data.

What is Programmatic Television – or Addressable TV? Programmatic television, also called Addressable TV, is becoming more common on basic streaming services like Hulu and Peacock—all of which have adjusted their offerings to begin streaming some sort of live (or almost live) content on their platform. Industry watchers are observing the industry to see if the main powerhouses—namely, Netflix and Amazon—will begin using programmatic ads as well. However, it’s not just about the platform itself. It’s about having the ability to serve targeted ads to specific households considering who is watching them, age, interests, income, and lifestyles.

You may be reminded of this when you turn on a show and it asks you: “Which of these ads would you prefer?” and then gives you options of a car commercial, a theme park ad, or a cleaning product. Based on the viewer’s choice (and further choices, extended watches, or skips), incredibly sophisticated algorithms adjust these ads that people see to ensure that the marketing is being used effectively.

Linear television is now similar to what an online channel used to be. No matter what, it will almost certainly still be a part of traditional cable television plans. The availability of ad inventory is growing at a steady rate, and the possibility of buying television ads on a larger scale is promising.


Where Programmatic TV Runs and It’s Effective Ad Space

Historically, digital teams have taken charge when it comes to programmatic television advertising. However, traditional media agencies have the opportunity to step into this role, too. Working directly with clients using digital counterparts allows for the consumer experience to be understood beyond the scope of the screen. Essentially, television investment teams can use these newly developed programmatic tools to still reach their traditional television viewing audience.

Programmatic television is the present majority of what people are watching, and it is only going to continue to increase. Less than five years ago, a little over half of the United States used a mobile device such as smart phone or tablet to stream content as opposed to paying for cable. That equated to about 165 million viewers. By the end of 2022, however, that number is predicted to go up by almost 40 million more. In other areas of the world, such as the UK, Japan, and France, over half of Internet-connected households will also be streaming most of their content through these devices. Some experts believe all television advertising will eventually go the route of programmatic ads. This will lead to linear and programmatic systems being completely integrated. In the US alone, advertisers are projected to spend $133 billion on digital ads, encompassing over 90% of the total amount spent on advertising. Other large digital-consuming nations, such as China and the UK, aren’t far behind. Television ads work best for very specific types of businesses. National companies that have a wide range of influence or who are connected with a large demographic often focus on television ads, as well as mature brands that want to stay relevant. Companies that have a high lifetime value for the customer or a simple marketing message do well on television. Businesses who want to invest a significant amount of advertising revenue into becoming a household name or reinforcing their already strong brand do well when placing their advertising efforts on television, also take advantage of television ads.


Are You Integrating Second Screens?

Your goal is to have your linear and programmatic campaigns integrate, rather than overlap. This takes significant attention and a dedicated team of experts.

Everyone in digital media knows that second-screen viewing presents a challenge. When a commercial break happens on linear TV—or even on programmatic television itself—consumers pick up their phones and search for choice content somewhere else. They’re onto you. However, brands and companies work around this by targeting certain ads on handheld devices during scheduled linear ad breaks. Many companies adjust for a display campaign to run as soon as television advertisements go live so that your strategies integrate in the way that will provide the best possible ROI.

There’s a lot of pressure that is associated with this method of advertising. You must not only assume that the demographic data behind where you’re placing your ads is efficient, but also assume that the correct person in the household is watching the ad on the second screen when the first ad break took place.

Many pieces have to fall into place for these campaigns to be effective; however, when they do come together, the effect has been proven to provide a positive outcome, which is why companies continued to put invest their marketing budgets towards this strategy.

It is important to know that this linear campaign itself will continue to be managed by professionals who are familiar with the industry. This programmatic complement to linear television shouldn’t end up requiring more intellectual labor or tasks that don’t add to the business improvement in any other way.

For example, anyone joining the team who has experience in social, marketing, or search engine science should also be well-versed in programmatic development so that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts, so to speak.

Using linear addressable advertising means networks can gain new revenue from their ad spots, which is equally beneficial for the advertising purchaser. Advanced developments in the linear and programmatic ecosystem help to maintain positive relationships on both sides, making it a win-win.


Effective Programmatic and Linear Ad Buying

Programmatic and linear television ads both have their place in the digital advertising world. How do you go about purchasing spots in either arena and how do you make sure that this is effective? Effective programmatic ad buying uses specific software to buy digital ad spots. This is done with high-level algorithms that help ensure a company’s ads are landing in households at specific times and during the exact programs to hit their target market.

This algorithmic purchasing method uses online traffic data as well as online display targeting to scale impressions. This creates a higher ROI for marketers in all areas. It also results in success for both global and SME brands—even for a small business, it can provide successful results.

Programmatic ad buying isn’t completely automated, though. Orders and tags are still prepared, just with a less labor-intensive process. This leaves more time for campaign optimization and improvement—available at an even higher level of accessibility because of real-time, digital data. On the other hand, traditional ad buying includes a long-winded array of proposals, tenders, negotiations, bids, and quotes.

Before purchasing programmatic ads, it is important to understand the system being used. Take the time to do your own research and get to know this marketplace. Use data you currently have access to decide how your advertising needs to evolve, then build the strategy with appropriate short- and long-term goals.

It is not advised to rely on digital data and algorithms and forgo real human connection is of great importance, as well. Keep skilled marketers on hand to help adjust and optimize where you are buying and placing ads. Finding that sweet spot between technological advances and applying real human intelligence to a campaign can provide the best results for advertising goals.

When wanting to complement programmatic ads with linear television ads, it is necessary to have a programmatic linear TV solution. This takes the streamlined process of buying programmed ads and adds the modern touch to buying ads for traditional television space. With a programmatic linear TV strategy, live TV advertising slots can be purchased with digital resources to track your reach and effectiveness. This closes both the online and offline media execution loops.

Usually, there are two options for this: user-level targeting and media-level targeting. User-level targeting uses an audience’s age, household income, and other demographic data to offer them the most applicable ads. Media-level targeting, on the other hand, chooses ad slots by dayparts, times, shows, networks, or audience ratings.

In both cases, choosing to add linear television advertising allows for strategic execution that leverages household-level insights which drive marketing strategies. Including omnichannel packages into your media strategy includes new and emerging channels as part of a purchase plan, as well. Most of these packages also allow for advertising during all ad breaks for any show.

Requirements and Contracts Competitive separation is very important here. It can be the end-all or be-all of an advertising deal. Sales execs need to solidify the fact that advertising workflows remain in place while programmatic systems need to protect their revenue streams. When linear television ads are integrated into an advertising strategy, it requires many platforms to work together seamlessly while holding up everyone’s end of the bargain.

Oftentimes, television networks leave money on the table when they choose to only sell advertiser inventory to one campaign. Not only would they miss out on this extra revenue, they would actually be able to make even more money by expanding to programmatic platforms, but they don’t. The main reason they don’t sell advertiser spots to more than one campaign is because they want to protect themselves from breaching competitive separation agreements. For example, they can’t run a Mercedes commercial and then follow it up with one from Audi. Competitive separation is a common contractual requirement in many business dealings. When this separation is breached, it has detrimental legal and financial consequences, not to mention a damaged reputation afterward.

Advertising sales teams are learning to navigate this hurdle, though, so that they can still reap the full range of benefits of linear advertising and maintain positive relationships with all of their clients. Teams use ad decision-system algorithms to determine “ad pods” in which ads of different categories are placed together and those of the same category are separated. These are integrated into the entire advertising ecosystem, which allows for high-level decision-making.

Since combining linear and programmatic television is a newer concept, as far as TV advertising itself goes, the latest developments in advertising techniques and contractual obligations must be closely monitored. The method of using algorithms to create effective and honest ad pods has proven effective during competitive separation testing. Businesses can honor their agreements and maintain positive customer relationships while still selling a profitable number of advertising spots.

Disaggregation of linear inventory is also a consideration. Licensing rights and content ownership are important elements of the ad space sales industry, so broadcast networks aren’t able to simply switch up what runs when the programmatic data show something that would make a change beneficial. However, linear programming still does the job when reaching the masses.


Verifying that Your Ads Ran on the Programmatic System

A great deal of revenue is invested in advertising budgets. So, it is important to ensure that the ROI is exactly what it should be and that money isn’t being wasted on fraudulent runs. Programmatic advertising is a lucrative target for fraudsters because they know that many companies dedicate much of their advertising efforts toward this area. Ad verification, then, is an important consideration. It spots areas that stop ads from reaching wide audiences. Advertisers can confirm that their ads are displayed on the most beneficial channels, during

the proper times, and in the right context—and of course, consumed by the correct audiences. The more that advertisers use programmatic advertising, the more crucial this type of verification becomes. Some packages now contain guaranteed viewability levels and models of time-spent purchasing to help advertisers confirm that their investment is being appropriately launched.

This is all done by verification tags (also known as beacons). These are inserted in the ad markup itself and are used to analyze the publishing page to confirm the appropriate ad placement. With this information, the vendor sends reports back to the ad agency so they can run placement and performance data.

You want to ensure that your ads aren’t running on fake news sites where they will undoubtedly lose credibility and engagement. This is possible by keeping demand-side blacklist up to date and monitoring ads to ensure they aren’t running on inappropriate sites. You could also use a whitelist, which helps ensure that sensitive content only runs during particular shows or on certain platforms.

Keeping up on fraudulent ad running is critical for advertisement budgets. This type of fraud costs advertisers $6-20 billion annually. Make sure that your budget and your reach match. It is of extreme importance that deals that seem too good to be true are not bid on, more often than not they are. Ensure that your ads stay compliant with privacy regulations, too.

Linear advertising can stay ahead of the game by working closely with digital ad sales. Platforms that use the multiple advertiser spot optimization technique sell the same spot to several different brands. Each time they have an advertising break, they target a different audience segment. Linear ad spots, however, can be bought for any unsold spots, which maximizes linear revenue while obtaining the benefits of programmatic ads.


Optimizing Ads

Programmatic linear television, on the other hand, allows companies to extend their marketing reach on television while ensuring that they reach their niche audience. An audience-first approach like this is incredibly efficient. With an approach like this campaigns can be set, built, and launched within just a few hours. This scalability ensures that audiences aren’t saturated with ads, which eventually turns the corner from being effective to being obnoxious. New technology also guarantees accurate data right away, so it can be accessed directly, much like a digital campaign. This allows for tools such as frequency capping, to ensure that this type of advertising is effective.

The more control you have, the sooner you can adjust your advertising strategy to make the best use of your resources; oftentimes, your goals will change week to week or even day to day. It’s important to also keep in mind the importance of ads reaching the intended households, whether or not they were on the program itself. For example, your ads ran during the newest episodes of “Ted Lasso,” but did the households you want to reach end up watching the program? That’s important information that you can take with you into the next campaign.

This type of information is especially effective when meeting with inventory partners. It gives them an incentive to prioritize television slots other than the coveted morning, sports, and primetime evening programming.

Programmatic ads are available for an infinite amount of inventory, in theory. Linear programmatic television, on the other hand, only has a limited number of spots, so there is competition to find the best inventory for each client.

These spots are typically purchased either through a local broadcast station, in the case of a linear ad, or through an ad agency doing the purchasing for you. When purchasing from a local provider, you can decide to purchase based on location or zip code or by a rotator spot during a particular time. Generally, smaller budget campaigns work best with broadcast advertising, suggesting that ads land in front of fewer people, it’s more effectively placed.

Using a marketing agency such as USIM, helps access a larger range of television contacts. This ends up being a more efficient use of advertising dollars for most companies overall because they have the ability to negotiate a financially sound package that effectively reaches the target market. Of course, the ad agency makes a commission but the consumer still comes out on top. Media agencies can also be hired on retainer for multiple media buys, which can be beneficial because the agency is familiar with the specified content and needs.


When Linear Buyers Also Want Programmatic Television

Linear television is making a significant comeback in viewers’ homes. Advertisers are seeing profitable results with their linear advertising investments. Organizations are now asking to use programmatic technology to buy linear ads. Single-service program platforms are also concentrating on linear addressability, and will seemingly continue to do so.

What the industry is seeing is that addressable programmatic inventory drives even higher conversion rates. This is possibly because it reaches audiences that OTT campaigns can’t reach. Essentially, they’re more intuitive, tailoring their efforts toward the people who are watching cable TV versus those who concentrate more of their time on streaming services. These potential gains are beneficial and will become even more so as linear TV continues to have more of a presence in the modern home. Buying linear ad space is a new experience for many purchasers who have only worked with programmatic buys in the past. They are accustomed to concentrating their efforts on a level of scale that needs to be looked at through a different lens when targeting specific geographical regions or demographics on linear channels.

Many advertising agencies and channels now offer linear programmatic space as a multifaceted approach to advertising since it’s requested at such high levels and shows valuable potential. The combined efforts of linear ads with the algorithms of programmatic advertising create the opportunity for traditional television viewers to be reached and then scaled, making it more profitable.

In the past, linear ads were only available through the very few selected providers. However, adding the programmatic element aggregates inventory sources and makes spaces more accessible across the board. Inventory is now available both on streaming services and on linear, traditional television, allowing networks to expand ad slots in a significant way.

Companies that previously concentrated only on programmatic ad space can learn a great deal from linear targeting, as well. Various linear ads have exponentially higher conversion rates, often because

they target audiences in an alternative way. They have further reach and provide more engagement, which is surprising because programmable ads are trying to do just that.

Programmatic buyers are interested in linear ads because of the increased potential for scale and addressability. They often want it as a stand-alone item and ad sales teams should be prepared for that.



Linear television—and its related advertising slots—still hold a significant portion of audience attention. It should still be a part of your advertising and media strategy when developing ad campaigns and placements. However, the advancements in digital media and programmatic ads mean that combining both spaces will have the most effective reach for brands and companies. Both programmatic and linear television ads will continue to be essential parts of the advertising space because they both have their place for reaching their respective audiences.


USIM and Next Steps for Developing Your Linear and Programmatic Marketing Strategies

When developing your marketing plans for future campaign and initiatives, consider leveraging programmatic and/or linear marketing into your budgets and overall marketing plans. This strategy and tactic allows your brand or product to extend its reach and integrate your brand within traditional media channels with a more targeted and efficient approach.

Work with your USIM team and agency to seamlessly determine the best and most efficient strategies for your campaign and business. For more information on how we can help optimize your media marketing strategy, connect with your individual planning team to discuss next steps.

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