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Sky AdSmart is no 'game changer' - the real digital game changed long ago

Advertiser reaction following the six-month trial of Sky's addressable advertising service was predictably positive.

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After all, there's no denying it's a game changer for the television industry.

The new system enables better targeting of ads to individual consumers and far greater clarity regarding to whom the ads are being shown in the first place.  

To the online world however, this all feels terribly dated.

In recent years, whilst digital has trail-blazed, the television industry as a whole has looked the other way and kept faith with the 33-year-old Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) for its audience measurement.

BARB is an antiquated system, which uses viewer data from 5,100 homes to report viewing figures to advertisers that are supposed to be representative of a UK population of about 63 million people.

Though Sky's AdSmart move is to be commended as a first step in the right direction, there is still a very long way to go for the television industry - surely nobody can argue that a move into ad server technology by a television broadcaster isn't long overdue. It's also the only way that advertiser funded television stands any chance of survival in the digital age.

The backbone of Sky's AdSmart system is this dynamic ad server technology, built into Sky+ set top boxes. Different campaign creatives can be over-layed with numerous different data sets and the resulting ads are chosen to be relevant to each individual home.

In other words, you and your neighbour can both be watching the football on a Sunday afternoon but you'll both see different ads at half-time. Advertisers will target you based on granular factors such as location, affluence, children's ages, life stage and financial outlook.  

The only data Sky can currently work from is Experian's records and basic profile information from Sky+ accounts. Other broadcasters will be keen to see how ad server technology can produce viewer insights as well as more accurate data regarding who saw which advert and what they did next.

At Quantcast we began pioneering this type of measurement back in 2006 and the ad tech industry seems to be light years ahead of television in terms of ad targeting.

In the coming years, every medium that wants to remain competitive will move towards personalisation and more targeted data-driven advertising. It was just a matter of time for TV to follow suit. Utilising data to deliver advertising can lead to benefits for both the advertisers via a more targeted approach and the consumer as it enhances their experience and serves advertising they are more likely to be interested in.

In what feels like the dim and distant past, websites worked with aggregated information and guess-work, but that was then and this is now. Advertisers are wising up and the television industry needs to stay relevant or risk going the way of other sectors left utterly disrupted by modern technology and innovation.

An even bigger question we should also ponder is what even constitutes 'television' anymore and what sort of companies will be best equipped to succeed in the broadcast field in the coming years.

When you take a step back from it all, for most people today their television is little more than an easy access portal for entertainment and news that their sofas point at.

In future, thanks to initiatives such as Sky AdSmart, the box in the corner of the room will be better at understanding your viewing habits, brand interactions, social media usage and internet navigation, but the stark reality is that online and television is merging and becoming blurred to the point of irrelevance.

Quantcast, along with the rest of the online advertising industry, has no interest in watching television broadcasters and media buyers struggle over its equivalent of yesteryear quandaries such as what's more effective, clicks or views? Or the cost per action model versus the cost per thousand impressions model debate.

The emergence of online real-time advertising has already helped us to solve these problems. If television doesn't wake up and start talking to experts in the digital advertising arena, real-time and targeted advertising via the TV will stutter and ultimately fail to take-off.

If TV is really serious about a move towards personalisation and more targeted data-driven advertising, it'll take more than just Sky to show BARB the ropes. Traditional broadcasters need to work together and learn from the pioneers of the digital world, or the likelihood is that 'the revolution will not be televised' as we know it.

Phil McCauley is European managing director at Quantcast

This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk

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