Buyers Ask to Prune Streaming TV Adtech Partners Ahead of Upfronts

Supply path optimization is coming for connected TV

As brands sit down with publishers to discuss connected television deals during this upfront season, they are asking for more efficient programmatic supply paths with fewer tech partners between buyers and sellers, six media buying sources told ADWEEK.

“The publishers that will get the most money from us are the ones that eliminate the most waste and the most unnecessary fees,” said Jay Friedman, CEO of digital marketing agency Goodway Group.

Supply path optimization has grown more trendy in open web programmatic in recent years as buyers look to eliminate wasted ad dollars, understand where their ads appear and target more premium inventory.

But SPO had previously been less relevant to CTV. Even though streaming TV is rendered digitally, it has mostly been purchased via direct insertion order and not programmatically. In May 2023, PubMatic estimated that 60% of CTV transactions would be bought manually over the year.

Supply has grown more fragmented

As streamers make more inventory available programmatically and more adtech firms want access to lucrative CTV budgets, there is a growing risk of media spending getting eaten up by tech taxes and flowing to suboptimal inventory.

The pathways between buyers and sellers in CTV are already complex: There can be up to 114 different supply paths to the same TV application, according to research from programmatic media buying firm MiQ, presented at AdExchanger’s CTV Connect event in March. What’s more concerning is that prices of this same inventory from different buying pathways can vary by up to 250%.

But complicated sales rights deals in an already fragmented CTV market mean several media companies might sell the same inventory.

While the company didn’t have historical statistics, MiQ began noticing the problem of fragmented supply paths at the end of 2023, after more CTV publishers began testing more tech partners in August of last year, said global head of product Lara Koenig.

Agency sources still prefer to buy CTV programmatically because it generally allows for more organization, reach and technical capabilities like frequency capping. But it needs to be as efficient as an automated, technical process would promise.

“We want to buy our CTV programmatically, but the challenges in the current programmatic landscape are often too substantial,” Friedman said.

Buyers favor transparent SSPs

Buyers want to cut out tech partners and their associated fees when possible.

One buyer, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive industry relations, wishes that more programmatic guaranteed deals, which are direct with a single publisher, could be transacted without a demand-side platform.

“You’re buying inventory from the same seller. Now you have to pay The Trade Desk to do the same,” instead of paying one fee to the publisher to transact programmatically, the buyer said.

Two other buyers said that when figuring out where to prune tech partners, they’re more willing to cut out supply-side platforms than DSPs, where so much buying data across media types is already stored.

“There are a lot of hops that happen,” said Matthew Kramer, head of brand investment at Media.Monks. The agency wants to “eliminate some of those unnecessary hops. It could be multiple SSPs a publisher is working with.”

MiQ asks publishers how they would prefer to be bought and then prioritizes that path, Koenig said. MiQ also works with SSPs to minimize the number of extra tech partners added to transactions.

At Havas Media Group, it’s already table stakes to work with SSPs that are clear about what percent of a campaign is going toward working media (the actual cost of the advertisement), rather than tech and data fees, said chief activation officer Mike Bregman.

“We have excluded certain partners and certain SSPs because we weren’t able to get the full level of transparency and visibility,” Bregman said.

More paths don’t have to mean more problems

While Koenig has been an advocate in the industry for SPO initiatives in CTV, she said that the pathway proliferation in streaming isn’t all bad.

“When so much spend is consolidated into one SSP or one DSP, it drives prices up,” Koenig told ADWEEK. “There is a lot of benefit to working with more partners in CTV, or at least testing new strategies.”

But this does make choosing the right path to buy media more of a challenge, said Friedman.

“Being a professional media buyer is not supposed to be easy,” Friedman said. “As an industry, we need to embrace difficulty.”

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