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Why Linear TV Budgets Are Migrating to Digital

[A version of this post originally appeared in The Drum.]

We all recall the highlights of last summer’s Olympic Games: Usain Bolt’s "Lightning Bolt" pose after winning the gold; Sakshi Malik’s jubilant expression when she won India’s first medal; Chinese diver He Zi’s impromptu marriage proposal to fellow diver Qin Kai.

Magna Global got something different out of the Games. In its global ad forecast last December, the IPG Mediabrands agency noted that even the Olympics, a programming genre that guaranteed stable reach and ratings for linear TV, "began to suffer from the erosion in viewing that has already affected every other program genre in the past six years."

Primetime ratings for the Games fell 33% for adults aged 18 to 49. As with NFL games and awards shows, people weren’t watching the events unfold live. Rather, they were watching the highlights on their phones and tablets.

Growth elsewhere

Turn’s recent survey of more than 200 ad agency professionals showed a similar migration away from linear TV. When asked where digital video spending was coming from, 67% said linear TV. That beat other contenders, including ‘shifting from other digital channel spend’ (58%) and ‘shifting from other offline media spend’ (47%). Only 23% said that the money was coming from new budgets.

The reason less spending is coming from new budgets may be that agency executives would like to see existing ad spending work harder, rather than grow budgets overall.

Programmatic versus linear

Linear TV is based on the model that if you put something on the air someone will watch it. That model is quickly fading as on-demand video from streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu becomes the new norm. For advertisers, programming that’s driven by consumer preference is also attractive since viewers are self-selecting content that reflects their interests.

Unlike linear TV, programmatic video also offers granular metrics on who is watching and can let advertisers target their ads based on first-party data. When asked what aspects of programmatic video matter most, execs replied "context and site quality" (62%) and "good audience metrics."

Some 84% of agency professionals, overall, also said that video was the "most effective" means for advertisers to get their messages across.

The brand safety issue

Although budgets are, increasingly, going to digital video, marketers have some legitimate concerns about the medium. After the Times of London found that Mercedes-Benz and other top brands were running ads alongside questionable content, some 250 advertisers pulled spending from YouTube. Google has since installed some brand safety measures.

Our survey picked up some discomfort with existing brand safety standards. Some 73% of respondents said they rate inventory quality as a top priority; 65% said inventory quality is a bigger concern than fraud.

It’s worth pointing out that not every provider of video inventory is grappling with brand safety. Still, this might make some brands that were shifting money from linear TV to digital video pause for thought. On the other hand, as Magna’s report makes clear, linear TV is no safe haven anymore either.

Learn more about making sure your video ads are seen in the right environment.