Programmatic TV – Programmatic or Automatic?

Anup Kumar | Date: August 2, 2018

While you are still grasping and coping to learn more about Programmatic in the Digital world, people have started talking about Programmatic TV, Programmatic OOH, Programmatic Radio!

Let’s understand Programmatic TV by replicating the same facets on the TV world from the Digital media. The three key requirements for a Programmatic ecosystem are –

  1. Automation (Buy/Sell/Implementation/Billing) – via a central Server
  2. Technology for Real-Time BiddingDynamic Implementation of Ads
  3. Ability to Identify, Segment and Customize the Audience and serve Customized Ads to various individuals simultaneously


The first two are possible but the last one will never be very sharply defined in the TV world. It’s possible in the digital world as PC, Laptop, Tablets, Mobile devices have unique IP addresses or Cookie IDs. One’s surfing behavior, the demo/geo data that one provides while logging in multiple apps, apps that collect data without our knowledge – all helps in profiling the user. And then using this data, we can reach out to the required audience and serve customized ads to an individual or group of individuals.

This is not possible on TV for two reasons –

  • The profiling of an individual TV viewer is going to be topline like Geo-location, Socio-Economic Strata etc. for a TV household
  • The inability to serve customized ads to an individual at the same time. Currently, some TV channels are giving geographic segregation, but one can’t select Gender, Age Band, Housing locality etc and serve customized ads to them

So, what is Programmatic TV currently all about!

Most of the tech advancement is happening on the Inventory-Aggregation and Buying-Automation front. The inventory is placed at one place – so buyers can bid and buy TV ads. Can one still select an Audience on TV and buy ads for only the relevant audience – the answer is a big No. The Smart TV can be targeted, but then it is Digital. So, if you are watching YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, AltBalaji, ErosNow etc. on your smart TV, that is “Digital” media and not the linear TV.

So how and what does the future behold? 

The set top box collects individual data – channels being watched, time spent on each channel, surfing pattern, audio & video quality etc. and all this is being collected by the distribution companies like DEN, Tata Sky, Dish etc. They use these data to manage and maintain the quality of transmission by reading the audio/video data from customer’s Set Top Boxes (STBs). And they also use them during negotiation with the Broadcasters on the carriage fees!

They can calculate the TV Ratings basis their subscribers’ data and imagine if all the distribution companies collate to give one rating. Suddenly (in India), one will get the TV ratings from the userbase of 66Mn DTH and 90Mn Digital Cable Households instead of the current sample size of 30K TV Households.

The current technology can also be evolved to serve individual communications/ads to every STB owner. Technology cost will be huge but currently, it’s more to do with the mindset. Neither the broadcasters nor the distribution companies want to get into this as they fear this will affect their overall revenues and will be left with a lot of unsold inventory.

The next step will be to arrive at a common currency/metric of purchase (preferably CPM rather than Rate/10sec or CPRP).

The 3rd party data can slowly be added by linking the mobile number with STB number and then the digital world can slowly merge with linear TV.

Facial recognition – The camera on TV can recognize and give real-time data of the audience via STB and one will be able to track and serve appropriate ads basis the viewing audience – individual vs. family.

This will also lead us to get one common Metric & Measurement for Video views across Media – TV, Desktop, Mobile etc. The plan can be optimized Real time to control the GRPs across devices, reduce duplication and plan at an overall Frequency.

So, Programmatic TV will remain a household targeting vehicle. It needs to quickly move beyond the buying automation phase to a phase where it can identify & segment audience, can serve dynamic and customized ads. Till that time the word “Programmatic” will be used for just an automation of inventory management with lots of assumption and correlation applied.