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12 December 2019

ViacomCBS under pressure to sort out synergies, OpenAP is first step

ViacomCBS’s first move following the finalized re-merger has been to throw the latter half of the business into the OpenAP initiative. Not that CBS had much choice, of course, with President and Chief Domestic Advertising officer Jo Ann Ross pulling the strings.

For OpenAP, pegged as the industry’s first open audience measurement platform for cross-publisher targeting, the inclusion of CBS-owned networks boosts the platform’s appeal to buyers knowing they can reach a huge slice of the US TV market in one consolidated buy. This fresh injection of content into the consortium comes as a well-needed uplift following WarnerMedia’s abrupt OpenAP exit earlier this year – which hurried the launch of OpenAP 2.0 in May.

OpenAP drivers Viacom, NBCUniversal, Fox and Univision envisioned a marketplace where ad buyers could targeted specific audiences using advanced advertising technologies on a standardized playing field.

From standardizing the underlying audience segmentation process to target highly-specific audiences, Version 2.0 then encompassed some technologies originally developed for digital rather than TV platforms. It automates the associated workflow to make programmatic trading possible – allowing advertisers to plan and buy TV campaigns across each publisher’s owned and operated footprint whether on connected TVs, linear, on-demand, mobile devices or PCs.

Version 2.0 recruited Accenture and Comcast’s FreeWheel for extra ad tech clout, available via APIs for agency planning systems and approved DSPs as of Fall 2019, providing cross-publisher analytics for a more omniscient approach to viewing audience campaigns. The addition of pre-campaign performance projections and post-campaign delivery metrics sound like neat new features, covering total unduplicated reach, overall CPM and total audience impressions.

Interestingly, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish spoke on CNBC this week. While boasting about the company’s 10 million SVoD subscribers in the US, Bakish denied that these were mainly promotional subscribers rather than fully paid up customers. “That’s flat out wrong,” he told CNBC’s David Faber.

Bakish also came under fire for the way the CEO of online subsidiary CBS Interactive reports to Bakish regarding digital assets, but to the separate CEO of CBS regarding the CBS Interactive business. “That doesn’t sound like an efficient way to go about trying to extract synergies and growth,” said Faber. Bakish’s response was that ViacomCBS will address the issue of separate silos going forwards to better align the business.

With ViacomCBS coming under fire for its siloed approach, this doesn’t reflect well on the OpenAP project. An integrated ViacomCBS strategy will be put forward in 2020 encompassing paid and ad-supported content together.

While CBS brings its Showtime OTT, CBS All Access and Smithsoian Channel Plus SVoD offerings to the party, Viacom splashed big on ad-supported OTT video offering Pluto TV last year, which boasts 20 million monthly average viewers.

Ultimately, modernizing the TV upfronts benefits both the TV networks and the brands advertising there. Content owners can charge more for inventory that can be guaranteed to reach more granular audiences, while advertisers can maximize bang for their buck by targeting audiences more precisely.

Faultline noted earlier this year that WarnerMedia’s abandonment of OpenAP suggested that its own Xandr ad tech unit was more advanced, or perhaps there was some conflict of interests.

However, this hasn’t entirely severed ties considering CBS is on the membership list of the newly formed Open Addressable Ready (OAR) consortium, along with Freewheel, Xandr and other US media majors including Disney. At least, CBS was until it became ViacomCBS.

One thing to keep in mind is that once the price of addressable advertising comes down, the industry will undergo dramatic changes. Still, there remains widespread indecision on a standardized method of monitoring across broadcast and OTT.

OpenAP CEO David Levy said, “The launch of the OpenAP Market has outperformed our expectations. We have had over 50 campaigns this quarter and with CBS networks now part of the fold that really should give buyers confidence. Agencies are excited that we are now using the scale of our networks to optimize across both publisher and platform to maximize reach of the precise audience that are trying to market to. Our networks are working together to move the market forward and that is what is needed at this moment.”