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TV Media Buying 101: Getting on the Silver Screen


So, you wanna be a TV star? Well, it won’t be easy; it takes guts, talent, a little luck, and the right media buying agency. One of the most significant factors in the success of a television advertising campaign is the media agency you work with. That doesn’t mean that brands shouldn’t know their way around the process, though - quite the opposite. After all, if you’re not careful about who buys your TV spots, you could be throwing ad dollars to the wind.


If you learn the ins and outs of TV media buying 101, you’ll be in a much more advantageous position to both choose and collaborate with the right agency to get your ads to the silver screen. Like any good pupil, it’s essential to do your homework, ask plenty of questions and make sure you know exactly what you’re buying before you sign on the dotted line or spend a single penny.


A Crash Course in TV Media Buying 101


One of the reasons TV media buying has such a steep learning curve is that there are a lot of ways to buy TV advertising. When the first TV ad aired in 1941, things were much simpler. Now, there are not only different TV formats, but the buying process and pricing structure is more complex. It becomes pretty overwhelming when you account for all the different types of TV, TV spots, and pricing formats. So let’s try to break this down.


TV Formats


Traditional TV:

  • Terrestrial: This is your traditional, roof-mounted antenna. Around 2010, analog terrestrial TV switched to digital, which meant improved, more consistent signal distribution and HD image quality for viewers.

  • Cable: In areas where using roof-mounted antennas was challenging, big community antennas were installed, supplying signals to individual households using cables (hence cable TV).

  • Satellite: Utilizing communication satellites orbiting the globe, the TV signal is received via an outdoor satellite dish. Then, a satellite receiver decodes the television program and displays it on a television set. Satellite receivers and tuners can be either external set-top boxes or built into TV sets.


Advanced TV: This category covers any form of TV that is not watched through a broadcast, cable, or satellite connection.

  • Connected TV (CTV): Programming watched via a Smart TV or TV set connected to the Internet on its own or via OTT devices.

  • Over-the-Top (OTT): OTT refers to all devices or services that enable advanced TV and streaming digital content in households. Examples include blu-ray players, streaming boxes, sticks, or gaming consoles.

  • Video-on-Demand (VOD): Any content available for watching when and where you want to. VOD also encompasses content watched through OTT devices, mobile apps, and video-streaming services.


How it Works


On top of the myriad of different TV formats audiences can access, there are several ways TV ads can be delivered to them.


Traditional TV media buying has been around the longest. It requires marketers using Nielsen data to inform their purchase of TV spots. The entire process is primarily manual and calls for the purchase to be made by directly contacting the broadcaster. When approaching buying with this method, targeting audiences is limited since you can only rely on programming and daypart to guide your purchase.


Addressable TV is a newer edition to the process. This is the ability to deliver different ads to different households watching the same program, and it enables marketers to better target TV spots. Targeting individual households is possible through their behavioral, demographic, or geographic data, reducing wasted impressions. Both traditional and advanced TV can be addressable. In fact, satellite and broadcast television companies typically use linear, addressable TV capabilities.


Buying ads spots that will be served via advanced TV is both easier and more complicated than traditional methods. On the one hand, you have more data and improved targeting capabilities. On the other hand, there is no one industry-wide platform to buy ads over or even standard data measurements. While you have more opportunities to buy TV ads programmatically, the process is far from streamlined and involves several steps between purchasing the spot and viewers actually watching it.


TV Media Buying 101: Test Prep


As you prepare for a TV advertising campaign, there are a few questions you should keep in mind.


Where are you targeting? Location is essential for a TV ad’s success. If you’re running ads for a car dealership, staying local may be better. If you’re a national chain with locations in several states, national could be the way to go. The important thing is not to waste your budget advertising to viewers who won’t find your message relevant.


To prepare: Ask your agency which markets or DMAs are available and which are best for your business.


What are your TV networks? There are over 1,500 commercial TV stations in the US. You have English-language commercial networks such as the Big Three (NBC, CBS, and ABC), all of which have terrestrial TV stations of their own and are also aired on pay TV. You also have public TV networks (such as PBS and its member stations), Spanish-language networks (such as Univision or Telemundo), genre-based networks, sports networks, and more. You want to make sure that out of all of these options, your ads are shown to the right audience.


To prepare: Ask your media planners and buyers which networks are available and how much control you have over where and when your ads are seen.


How are you buying? There are three main ways to purchase TV inventory. Remnant buys are purchased a few days to a week before airing. Since networks are just trying to fill empty spots, you’re limited to a specific network and rotation, but if someone else outbids you, they’ll get the spot over you. Non-preemptible (NPE) buys are less flexible and have to be purchased one quarter before airing. They offer guaranteed airings and therefore tend to be more expensive than remnants.


Finally, upfronts are the least flexible because you have to commit to them in the spring, six to twelve months before airing. While they’re the most expensive, they allow you to target by program instead of just network and rotation. If a network fails to deliver the guaranteed impressions from upfronts, they offer makegoods on other programs, too.


To prepare: Have a budget and a timeframe for your campaign in mind. Then, you will be able to ask your media buyers what the best course of action will be.


The Ward Group: Office Hours


The Ward Group has been on the silver screen for a while. In the beginning, we only offered traditional, linear TV media buying options, but with the advent of the Internet and vast expansion in ways to watch video content, we’ve steadily added new video channels to our repertoire. These include all Advanced-TV options as well as online videos. While the process has only grown more complex for buying TV inventory, planning your ad campaign with our media stewards couldn’t be simpler.


Every business needs to get their brand in front of potential customers effectively, but video channels vary in many ways, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Our experienced team takes our clients’ objectives to heart and makes insights and recommendations that will create the desired outcomes through research of markets and media channels, analysis, and budgeting. We’ll work with you each step of the way, ensuring that each of your media dollars is spent as if it was our own.


Through careful planning and expert negotiating, our media stewards deliver a strategy that accounts for your audience, brand, and budget. If you’re ready to graduate from TV Media Buying 101, meet your team to get started!