TV sector needs to accelerate its makeover in the attention economy


Originally published in The Australian Financial Review by 
MCN's Anthony Fitzgerald.

If the banks can do it, so too can Australian broadcasters.

Australia's financial system is all-in on an imminent customer payments service from BPay, called Osko, which will easily and instantly allow customers to send and receive money with a simple "PayID", eradicating the need for BSB and account numbers to transact. 

BPay and initiatives like Osko are pointers to what Australia's television networks must do with profound urgency to prosper in the new attention economy. Interestingly, for broadcasters, BPay is equally owned by ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and NAB.

The fierce competitive instincts that have delighted many television observers for decades will no doubt continue but those instincts can no longer impede collaboration between all TV networks to reduce complexity and improve the efficacy in trading, audience, data and measurement systems. Silicon Valley's Big Tech operatives in Google, Facebook and Amazon have ensured that. Their rapacious appetite to raid and decimate local market media economics around the world with global scale and tech smarts is unprecedented. Google and Facebook between them extracted circa $4 billion out of the $13 billion Australian advertising sector last year, according to Morgan Stanley. And the trend is continuing.

Like the banking system's Osko initiative, the first and most urgent step for the broadcast industry is to ensure the trading of more than $4 billion in commercial television airtime each year is faster, easier and ultimately enriched with data intelligence for our customers – advertisers and media agencies. And they too must progress.

Every Australian TV network has now launched its own proprietary system to automate parts of the TV supply chain, from booking and scheduling to predictive audience systems and more refined audience segmentation. But already the advertising market's response to this technology-led innovation is simply one of "more complexity". Advertisers and media agencies today must juggle between three or four competing trading and audience platforms in varying degrees of sophistication through the broadcast system to reach their customers and prospects.

As Peter Horgan, Omnicom Media Group's CEO and chairman of the Media Federation of Australia, said sharply last week, the "transactional headwinds are killing television. It needs to be easier and cleaner to transact. TV is a complicated business but to create three or four complex infrastructures will be wasteful and slow. The boat will be missed."

I agree entirely. It can't work and won't work the way it is but there is real progress being made among Australian broadcasters on alignment. This message came through clearly from advertisers and media agencies at a recent Future of TV Advertising industry forum in which I gave a keynote outlining a five-point action plan the TV sector needed to move on now. One of those points was that broadcasters needed to remove transactional barriers to buying TV and do it fast.

Equally, however, advertisers and media agencies need to embrace the broadcast industry's genuine intent to align on eliminating inefficiencies in the TV system. Those legacy shackles are often as deeply embedded with advertisers and agencies as they are broadcasters. Advertisers such as Westpac's head of media, Toby Dewar, are pointing the way. In an interview with MCN after the Future of TV Advertising forum, Dewar was optimistic about what he was hearing from the broadcast sector at large: "I'm deeply invested in TV succeeding to grow my brand and sales and what's been really encouraging to see is the unity the TV networks have at the moment. I thought there would be more division and history would suggest the networks have all pursued their own path for success. So I'm really encouraged with the sense of collaboration. That focus on pulling it all together, removing the confusion and having one point of entry is quite a profound thing."        

To be clear, this promising new era of collaboration by broadcasters must simplify the complexity of buying TV and retain competitiveness. That is all possible. And only once those transactional impediments for TV are addressed, quickly, can we start working on the broader action points broadcasters need to address to keep television local and thriving. Time, however, is not on our side. We must move fast.