Inside the black box of offline TV media buying

The TV media landscape, especially in countries like Germany and France, is very different from the digital space – and that goes double for the actual media buying process. For a lot of startups and other digital brands who aren’t at the size where it makes sense to plan and buy their own TV campaigns (or simply don’t want to), the buying process is surprisingly manual and unfamiliar at best, and at worst a total black box.

The good news is, it’s not rocket science – it’s just a little complicated. We figured it’s time to shed some light on this often-misunderstood side of TV media buying. Read on to get the details on how this actually works.

TL;DR: We’re also working on a solution to automate & simplify TV media planning – click here to get updates.

Defining your TV media target group

You probably have a great idea what your current customers look like – but TV can be an excellent way to tap into users from target groups that you didn’t know you had. Especially if you’ve mostly been running digital campaigns so far, your TV media target group is probably a bit different than the target group you’re focusing on now.

There certainly will be some overlap, but when running TV campaigns, it’s helpful to think a bit broader to reach those new potential users. TV can help you massively expand your reach  – but to do this, you should avoid being overly narrow in defining your target group. Start with what you know, but invest some budgets into testing outside of those assumptions.

Campaign goals: What do you want to achieve?

ROI is king, but your most important metric for measuring return on investment might be very different depending on the stage of growth your business is in. Startups might want to focus on pure performance and generating new users, while more established players might focus more on brand awareness and increasing customer lifetime value. Maybe you’re entering a new market and have specific insights that you want to glean from running a TV test.

In all cases, it’s important to be clear within your team and/or with your agency about what you hope to achieve with TV, because this will heavily influence your media plan and the kind of channels and times that make the most sense for your campaign. Note that this can change over time – so it’s helpful to establish goals for TV over the mid- and long-term as well, for when you hit that next level of growth.

TV planning tools help match target group to channels

The next big question is, how do you know which channels are right for the target group that you defined? To make an informed decision, you need audience information from the channels you’re considering.

There are three basic options to get this info: First, you could try to in-house this part of the process, but that would mean approaching all TV channels individually to find out if your target group is watching and at what times. Second, working with an agency is always an option, but if you prefer to plan everything yourself, the third option is to use a TV media planning tool like TV Control, Videoscope, or Kantar. This still involves quite a few manual steps and of course pre-existing knowledge about how to plan a performance TV campaign.

For those who want a more self-service option, but with more simplicity and the benefits of automation, we came up with a different solution. We’re developing an automated TV media plan generator that doesn’t just give you info about the channels and audiences – it uses our extensive data from running countless performance TV campaigns, combined with machine learning technologies, to make a custom recommendation for a media plan that fits your target group and goals.

Costs & pricing for TV media

Depending on your target market, the pricing models for actually buying campaigns can be completely different. Some markets price TV media based on what’s called discount buying, some work with GRPs (gross ratings points) and some work with spot rate buying.

In Germany, for example, there’s a distinction between gross price and net price. Gross price is the list price (generally based on 30-second spot lengths) that a network sets for their specific time blocks of advertising. This is displayed as a pricing table of time blocks, called a ratecard. Net price is the actual price you would negotiate with the salespeople at TV networks. The difference between net price and gross price is called the discount, and may determine how likely your spot is to be placed exactly when you want it.

Pricing also depends on the length of the spot, but depending on the network, this might also be a bit more complex than you’d expect. Some networks charge linearly based on time, meaning a 30-second spot costs proportionately more than a 20-second spot. Other networks have disproportionate pricing – a shorter spot might cost more per second. This may still make sense in terms of performance, however, because in total it’s still less expensive, and often customers can be activated in under 30 seconds.

For contrast, in the UK, buying is done on the basis of audience sizes, using GRP (Gross Ratings Points) as a metric. You might buy 500 GRP with one network at an agreed cost, and the channel will continue to deliver spots until you hit that GRP. In the United states, there is one fixed price per spot that you buy. There is no one buying method that’s best – all have advantages and disadvantages – but the challenge is knowing how to get the most out of each system.

Defining your booking restrictions

The next question you need to ask is how much flexibility you’re willing to have in when exactly your spot is aired. There are three main booking types that each have different guarantees regarding spot airing times: Classic, DRTV (Direct Response Television) and Standby. Generally speaking, the more flexible the model, the lower the cost. The safer your slots are, the more you’ll need to pay.

Classic booking is when you want your spots to be aired during specific programs, and want an absolute guarantee that it will run during that time. This is the most expensive method and is generally not very performance-driven because of costs and inflexibility. However, if you’re running a pure branding campaign and want to make sure you’ll be seen, this is the best booking option.

DRTV is a middle ground where you lose the right to book specific spots on specific programs, but you can set some restrictions for daypart and weekday. There is no guarantee that you will get an exact spot, but it’s recommended for performance campaigns because of the lower price.

With DRTV, you buy media on a “discount” basis – meaning you negotiate how much of a discount on the list media prices you’ll receive. But this discount will affect how “safe” your booking is. Networks might prioritise airing spots from clients who have a lower discount, so the trick here is to find the right balance. You need to negotiate a discount that gets you both a reasonable cost, and assures that your spots will be aired (called “clearance”). Here it may make a difference which office of a network you call, who you have established relationships to, and the volume of media booked. This is where a media agency can help the most.

Standby booking deals with “leftover” media. This is the cheapest option, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the most cost-effective. In theory, you give channels a set budget, and if there are any remaining time slots available, your spot is aired as often as possible for low cost. In actuality, there is generally very little time left over and you may not get your spots aired at all. It’s similar to setting your bid too low on online channels.

Booking the campaign

Actually booking your TV media is not a complicated process. This can be as simple as sending a PDF or Excel file to each network detailing budget, daypart, weekdays, etc. In some markets, network sales houses might have a kind of SSP (Supply-Side Platform) giving direct access to inventory, but for much of Europe this is still at least a few years out. The tricky part comes next – making sure your bookings match what you asked for.

Checking and double checking your bookings

Unfortunately, sending a booking doesn’t guarantee you get the exact slots you asked for. To be sure you’re getting your money’s worth, you’ll need to continuously check your bookings against what you requested from the networks – not just once, but on a weekly basis.

It’s important to check and double check these bookings, because it might happen that a network sends you back part of your budget if your spots weren’t placed, or worse, they could start changing your placements and put your spots in less efficient dayparts. If you notice the network is changing your airing times, you’ll need to make some calls to renegotiate your budget and placements.

Tracking, analysing & optimising TV campaigns

If you’re a performance-oriented company, you’ll also want to make sure that you get some kind of return on investment from TV, whether in terms of conversions or installs or revenue. This means you’ll need to have some kind of tracking & measurement technology in place to analyse the impact of your TV campaigns. There are several solutions for this on the market, including our own DC Analytics.

You can also use these insights to optimise your bookings for following flights. Ideally, the tool you’re using will provide a breakdown of data by common TV media factors you can optimize on, like daypart, channel, weekday, etc.

Building relationships for better conditions

You’ll see the best effects from TV when you invest long-term, rather than just treating it as a one-off campaign. Not only will this allow you optimize where you place your budgets based on the data you generate from your first test flight, it also gives you the chance to build relationships with TV networks to improve your buying conditions for future campaigns.

When you’ve recognized which networks are working best for you and have some certainty that you’ll invest more budgets there, you can renegotiate contracts in order to secure optimal buying conditions while achieving high spot clearance (spot clearance is the percentage of your budget that is actually placed during a campaign). These kind of negotiations are also significantly easier the more experience you have working together with networks.

Not sure where to start? Sign up to try our new automated TV media planning tool

In the end, media buying for traditional offline TV is not a difficult process, but it’s complex, involves a lot of manual steps, and buying conditions are often dependent on relationships. This isn’t generally ideal for startups or digital brands with limited in-house resources for managing offline campaigns.

To help solve this, we’re building a technology that makes TV media planning and buying much more accessible, generating automated media plans based on your budget and information about your target audience. We’ve designed it with the help of our experience working with hundreds of digital brands and planning thousands of campaigns on offline TV. Want to give it a try? Get notified as soon as we’re live!

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