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Broadcast Optimisation: ‘Sh*t In. Sh*t Out!’

Whether we are working with broadcasters that are international or domestic, commercial or public service, big or small we have tended to find over the last couple of years that everyone wants an on-air optimiser. Indeed I would go as far to say that many feel that installation of such a tool will be like finding the 'Holy Grail' that will solve all their on-air inefficiencies. In reality these inefficiencies are generally caused by either limited resource or limited staff expertise within their business. If King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were still with us then they would surely testify that the task to find such a trophy just isn’t that easy!

A dictionary definition of the word optimise is 'to make as perfect or effective as possible'. This is indeed what we all strive for in life in general in everything we do, personally and professionally. However we know how difficult that can be, so for me, a better definition is as follows; 'to find the best compromise among several often conflicting requirements'. I particularly like the words 'compromise' and 'conflicting' in this definition. These two words sum up the whole challenge with broadcast optimisation tools, and raises the question, "what is it that I can afford to compromise upon, whilst trying to satisfy the conflicting demands placed upon the business?".

It’s worth taking a step back to understand the history of optimisers to question their current usage in the broadcast world. Whilst broadcasters have been relatively late to the market to maximise the efficiency of their own promotional space, their sales teams have been trying to do just that for the best part of three decades. My own experience as broadcast buying director at a major UK agency in the 1990s often placed my team and I in conflict with broadcast sales teams, as their sales optimisers generated advertising schedules for our clients which were seriously compromised. This was due to the sales teams’ single minded goal to squeeze the most out of their airtime in efficiency terms, whilst having little regard for the effectiveness of the schedule that that they were selling. In reality often a conflict between maximising campaign frequency vs maximising effective reach. Broadcast promotion teams don’t need to have this conflict, as they are the ones who own and are in control of their own promotional resource, so in reality they should be able to fix the relationship between reach and frequency that is best for themselves.

So given that broadcasters have complete control of their airtime, why is that I have made the title of this piece such as I have? Generally I think that it tends to be an internal expertise issue that causes many broadcasters to see an optimiser as the answer to all of their problems, whilst failing to recognise that these tools are indeed hungry beasts that need to be fed constantly with good data dictated by robust strategy in order to perform. Without this they are no more than an administrative tool offering a degree of efficiency but without desired effectiveness.

Whilst many broadcast airtime optimisers currently on the market leave a little to be desired in their capability, there are a couple that are extremely efficient in their role, managing complex inputted rules using deep embedded algorithms. However even these only thrive upon good data and a robust strategy to work with.

In the six years that JWM have been operating, it has been our mission to spread best practice to broadcast units to ensure that their highly valuable promotional airtime is 'spent' to its best effect. In essence, to employ the very same principles and skills that in most cases are used to fund their businesses – those of their advertiser clients. Whilst advertisers and their agencies invest in sophisticated software and the expertise of their staff to construct effective optimal campaigns for their expenditure on TV, we find that these very same practices are often ignored by the broadcaster whose promotional airtime is measured in the same way (GRPs), and whose promos are seen by the same eyeballs as those that see their clients’ advertising messages!

There is still a lack of robust promotional strategy employed in general across the broadcast world, whilst some may employ a healthy content segmentation approach with their creative output, few do this supported by a proper media plan with detailed pre-determined task led campaign weights and evaluation measures. The optimisers in place are often used to 'make-good' the demand for airtime irrespective of how many campaigns can be 'afforded' by that broadcaster across a given period. Similarly we have come across situations where systems have been set up to optimise using just one target audience – in effect turning a sophisticated optimisation system into an auto-slotter. Single channel optimisation is also sometimes an additional failing in the exploitation of a reach enhancing portfolio.

Having been critical above of those broadcasters who use and fail to understand what needs to be done to get the best out of an optimiser, there are some who break this mould and achieve outstanding results from their system. These same broadcasters will tell you that their success didn’t come easy and that their results correlate with the amount of up front work prior to initial implementation, along with ongoing fine tuning once installed. In such an article as this I’m not going to name any particular broadcasters or optimisers, however the range of both is large.

I have detailed some of the issues that we have experienced, however at the other end we are aware of some broadcasters who have through investment and engagement with their suppliers, allied to deep audience research of their own have gone a long way towards finding the Holy Grail or 'promised land' that I mentioned earlier. This investment has allowed one broadcaster in particular to optimise far beyond mere demographics of gender, age, and social economic ranking, to be able to reach viewers who are much more pre-disposed to watch certain content than others. They have also been able to target specific messages and change the attitudes of viewers with regard to solving brand health issues and even to best monetise products or additional services sold off screen. Such actions tend to lead to significant revenue savings in more ways than one; not just through maximising product and service revenues and audience driven advertising, but also through the reduction of previously used methods to try to maintain brand health such as direct marketing and telephone response marketing. To achieve this 'business defining' outcome, this broadcaster has invested time, effort, co-operation and strategy over the past 8 years.

I recognise that not everyone has the resources available to them as in the case detailed above, but that should not deter and prevent even the least resourced broadcaster from implementing optimisation best practice: A sound pre-determined strategy based upon channel and business objectives, or tasks, resulting in robust prioritisation criteria which in turn results in a promotional model. This model should define for each task, a concise target audience, an effective channel (or media) mix, a defined lead period to launch and for support post launch, and of course campaign weight – in target audience GRPs for each stage of the campaign, determined by effective frequency. Only once you know these, can you feed the optimiser to ensure that it provides you effective campaigns with least compromise across the conflicting needs of the business.

Up to now any criticism I have voiced has tended to be laid at the door of the broadcaster, however I do feel that companies who offer such on-air optimisers that I have been discussing, have a duty of care to ensure that their clients are fully equipped with what’s needed to secure best results from their product. Optimisers may come with a product user guide, but this is insufficient to achieve best solutions. As the title of this piece states; Sh*t In. Sh*t Out!

It may be an over-used quote, but never is the phrase ‘Content is King’ as relevant as it has ever been, nor as critically as important it is for broadcasters to employ the merits of that phrase.

Please feel free to give feedback on the above opinion piece. 
Should you be interested in exploring how JWM could possibly help your broadcast organisation then please contact us

Alan James, April 2017



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