Defining ‘Addressable TV’

The ideas in this blog were first outlined in the recent Decipher White Paper ‘The Emerging Context for TV Addressability’ in 2019 and presented again at the MediaTel Future TV Advertising Conference in April 2020.


Television continues to change. TV and web technologies are converging and every device we use to watch TV is ‘digital’ and most likely now ‘online’ and ‘connected’.

What used to be a wholly ‘broadcast’ industry has embraced new distribution formats like on-demand and streamed content.  Now, with the advent of ‘addressable TV’, the industry is adopting the data, analysis and targeting techniques of the web.

However, this new complex television landscape is exposing gaps in the industry’s knowledge and many agencies and sales houses don’t seem to have the basic language to describe their own products and services.  Incoherent phrases like ‘TV and digital’, which should have been banished in the first wave of convergence, routinely get used by senior industy personnel, undermining any sense of authority or expertise they may claim.

The television industry and the agency world need to ensure that all players in the industry understand the basic tech behind the new technologies and have the language and terminology to join the debate about how the new landscape should evolve.


Nigel Walley Discussing TV Addressability in the UK for FTVA 2020


TV Tech Is Changing

When TV and agency people use a phrase like ‘TV and digital’ it reveals a lack of understanding of the basic building blocks of our industry.  Everyone needs to understand a TV and advertising landscape built on a core of linear TV, while recognising ‘linear’ can now be digital ‘broadcast’ as well as linear streamed IP – all of this is TV and all of it is ‘digital’.  We also need to understand the variety in on-demand functions that have developed.  TV now includes closed format ‘platform on-demand’ (as on a Sky or Virgin STB) where advertising is delivered and measured by the platform; it includes web delivered on-demand (like channel apps) where a broadcaster controls ad sales, delivery and measurement.  The nature of the data available (and therefore the nature of addressability that is possible) varies widely between these on-demand formats.  If you can’t discuss TV in this detail, then you have no place trying to sell it or plan it on behalf of clients.

Understanding the implication for how, when and where advertising can be delivered into different TV formats formats, and the differences in what can be targeted and measured in each context, is now crucial.  For agency personnel in particular, to not be able to discuss this landscape in its full nuanced detail is a failure of agency education.

Terminology Evolves

This failure is most obviously manifest in the way agencies and sales houses discuss the industry in public and with their clients.  As the TV tech landscape evolves, so the terminology we use to describe services, functionality and devices needs to evolve if we are to have a meaningful debate about their use.

An area that needs most discussion is the nature of ‘addressability’.  Too often the industry defines ‘TV’ as a vaguely untargeted and unaccountable medium, with ‘digital’ seen as being both completely addressable and accountable.  Neither stereotype has ever been true and with new ‘addressable TV’ formats, they are increasingly incoherent.  It is increasingly important to understand when TV is delivered into a shared, ‘audience’ context (ie on a telly) versus a single viewer or ‘user’ context (on a phone or tablet).  The nature of addressability is significantly different in both and they shouldn’t be treated as being the same.

The TV and web industries need to share mutually agreed definitions and terminology. But words become redundant as our understanding  is refined. ‘Digital’, online’, ‘OTT’ and even ‘broadcast’ have been through this process and need to be sidelined.  Once helpful, they are no longer sufficiently precise and now add to a fog of confusion.  Agencies and sales houses still using phrases like ‘TV and digital’ and ‘digital products’ are merely signalling their ignorance of the modern media landscape.

A New Debate Is Starting

All of this matters because the role and applicability of most new ‘addressable’ TV formats is still being debated.  Neither is it resolved which players are best positioned to deliver advertising, to capture data and insight and to formulate services in this new landscape.  A core question is whether platforms are better positioned than broadcasters to service the needs of advertisers in this landscape and what advertisers and regulators need to do to address this issue. As these products evolve, clients need all of us to be able debate the issue and advocate for outcomes which are in their interests.  Reducing the debate to ‘TV vs digital’ is to betray our professional obligations to the clients whose budgets fund our industry.

‘Addressable TV’ is now at the point where this debate can happen and the industry needs all players to  be sufficiently informed of the details and nuances to join in.  But if you and your agency are still using phrases like TV and digital, then you aren’t even in the industry, let alone the debate.


TV VOD Advertising – Its complicated!

Decipher MD - Nigel WalleyThis blog is the second of two considering the impact of the arrival of dynamic VOD advertising on the Sky and Virgin set top boxes in the UK. The first blog here made the case that catch-up VOD on a set top box is fundamentally different to catch-up ‘player VOD’ on Smart devices and needs to be treated as a wholly new format. This second blog looks at the implications of that statement for advertising and offers a suggestion to make TV VOD ads work in the converged TV future that is now arriving. more “TV VOD Advertising – Its complicated!”

VOD Ads On TV Are Different to VOD Ads On The Web..and It Matters!

Sept 2011 - New NW BW Head & Shoulders (thumbnail)This blog is concerned with the arrival of a significant new form of VOD advertising – ‘platform’ VOD. This is the VOD advertising format that is slowly emerging on TV set top boxes in the UK and other TV markets.

In the UK ‘platform VOD advertising has been taking some time to get established. On Virgin set top boxes in the UK there have been experiments with VOD advertising going for a few years, but only with the recent upgrade of its systems is it properly taking off. On Sky+ boxes (where until recently, it was impossible to insert adverts into VOD programmes) we are promised a summer roll out of ad insertion. On the Youview based boxes and the other free-to-air platforms, platform VOD has been treated as an extension of ‘player’ VOD – formats delivered through a broadcaster app like ITV Player or 4OD. It has been bundled and sold within the broader VOD advertising deals, and has not been broken out for reporting or measurement purposes.   more “VOD Ads On TV Are Different to VOD Ads On The Web..and It Matters!”

TV and the 16-24s: Careless Whispers

By Matt Walters – @matthew_walters –

Head and shouldersHow we groaned.  And, days on, how we continue to. The morning that followed a tumultuous day before – the day that had seen the industry react to the BBC Trust’s backing for the closure of BBC Three, banishing the channel to an uncertain online-only future – began ordinarily enough, with the publication of the conclusions of Ofcom’s Third Public Service Broadcasting Review.  The final document – if not headline-grabbing – brought to the surface the significant contribution made by the PSBs, and yet was cognisant of the challenges ahead facing them.  Then something odd happened.  And it’s led us to the view that July – though only thirteen days old – has not been the proudest month for the UK’s TV journalism community.  Permit me to explain. more “TV and the 16-24s: Careless Whispers”

Will ad tech require a regulatory revolution?

By Decipher –

070716 Decipher Square

In many ways, 2014 was  a successful year for future ad-tech.  Blockbuster M&A deals saw the ownership of, Brightroll and SpotXchange change hands (to AOL, Yahoo and RTL respectively).  And the UK’s very own Channel 4 has announced (but not detailed) plans for a private, automated ad trading marketplace for All4, its rebranded catch-up service, to be launched early next year.

Yet dark clouds sit on ad-tech’s horizon as we start 2015.  A recent Financial Times investigation highlighted the malaise.  According to a study the FT conducted with Pixalate, a company specialising in detection and prevention of ad fraud, over the course of a single month 72% of ad impressions being offered on open exchanges under the name were fraudulent.  more “Will ad tech require a regulatory revolution?”

Is RTL Having A ‘Friends Reunited’ Moment With The SpotXchange Deal?

August 8 2014

RTLs recent acquisition of a majority stake in SpotXchange gave Decipher a nervous moment of deja vu last week, reminding us of a previous broadcaster’s dramatic foray into emerging digital media.

In 2005, ITV under a previous management regime, paid £175M for the British social media site FriendsReunited. The deal delivered £30M to the founders, Steve and Julie Pankhurst. At the time this was charitably viewed as an ‘unusual’ deal – what Sir Humphrey would have called ‘brave’- although Friends Reunited was one of the most visited UK web sites of its day. But the reality for ITV was this was a deal made in desperation by a management team who didn’t understand the new market that was unfolding in front of them. They needed a ‘digital’ play and didn’t know how to deliver it. more “Is RTL Having A ‘Friends Reunited’ Moment With The SpotXchange Deal?”

Twitter and TV – A Pause For Reflection!

Nigel Walley – 2nd April

Sept 2011 - New NW BW crop for social mediaI have finally recovered after AdWeek.  I went to four conferences and followed two more on Twitter, which was over-kill.  As I sat in the final conference, my over-riding thought was how those of us in new media have yet to make the case for a central role for the web and social media in marketing budgets.  It was like 2003 all over again. There were some truly dreadful presentations from new media types, but the area that bothered me most was the perpetual over-claiming for the role of Twitter around TV.

I am a massive Twitter fan and probably count as a ‘super-user’. I am also a massive fan of broadcast TV.  I like the story that they are somehow mutually beneficial, however it appears to have spun out of control.  It has leapt from an observation of concurrent use, to an implication of symbiotic dependence, to the point where now Twitter are peddling the line that not only do they influence TV audiences, but that a brand advertiser can  get material benefits from co-ordinating Twitter campaigns with TV ad spots. The only problem is that there is no data to back any of this up. Or if anything, the data disproves it.

more “Twitter and TV – A Pause For Reflection!”

Digital Is Dead – Long Live TV and The Web!

Nigel Walley –  July 2009

I received a flyer in the post from the Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM) the other day, outlining the curriculum of their ‘Complete Digital Marketing Course’.  What was remarkable about this flyer and its grandiose claim, was just how incomplete the course was.  In a week when AudiTV launched an on-demand service on Virgin cable’s Showcase, and Honda’s webTV service moved to the front page of the BT Vision EPG, there was nothing about breakthrough digital TV marketing in it at all.  With Sky launching green button advertising on the satellite platforms, there was nothing about interactive television formats; and with both Sky and Virgin developing targeted broadcast and targeted on-demand mechanisms, there was nothing about converged marketing principles, bringing together internet techniques with broadcast content.  And it wasn’t just TV that was ignored.

more “Digital Is Dead – Long Live TV and The Web!”

Why do I still watch broadcast TV?

Adrian Stroud – June 2009

I recently challenged myself to work-out why I still watch so much ‘live’ TV. I don’t mean news or sport because I can rationalise those genres quite easily. I mean bread and butter programming.
The challenge came about because I was debating just how much more damage all the VOD services and PVRs will do to live TV viewing figures in the long-run. This is important because it is those live viewing figures that contribute the vast bulk of advertising impacts. VOD currently delivers far, fewer impacts per hour of viewing than live TV, so the ‘end game’ for advertising funded TV programming is defined by this question. My guess was that live TV won’t drop more than perhaps 25%, no matter how many VOD and time shifting gadgets like Sky+ launch, but I could not say why. I suspect I’m making the mistake of confusing the technology with the benefits.
VOD and the PVR are the rational way to consume all but the livest of live TV events. So, when VOD has all the content you want and it is available on every screen in the house, why would you want to watch ordinary old broadcast TV at all?

more “Why do I still watch broadcast TV?”

The Mentos/Diet Coke Viral Lives On

In 2006 at the height of the Web 2.0 explosion, as new acronyms were flying and buzz words abound, we saw the release of one of the most successful virals ever to grace the Web. As we see in this article, two years on, the Mentos/Diet Coke geyser clip is still alive and kicking…

Inspired by a friend who told them of the explosive reactions that can take place when acids and bases mix, two creatives, Steven Voltz and Fritz Grobe, from a little known agency set about experimenting with a range of household products looking for the ultimate in combustible consumer product partenrships. Eventually they literally struck gold when they combined a bottle of Diet Coke, with the minty sweet ‘Mentos’. The resulting viral video that was filmed consisted of a feast of fantastically elaborate experiments, with fountains of exploding Coca Cola gushing in time to classical music.

more “The Mentos/Diet Coke Viral Lives On”