ABC Dips a Toe Into the Programmatic Pool

Partnership with FreeWheel furthers the cause of automated buying

While it executed all the expected dance moves, screening cut-downs of its fall series before letting late-night prankster Jimmy Kimmel off the leash for his annual Friar’s Club roast of the broadcast biz, ABC on Tuesday afternoon had at least one surprise up its sleeve.

Speaking to media buyers and advertisers during the network’s 2014-15 upfront presentation, ABC ad sales president Geri Wang announced that her team plans to begin kicking the tires on programmatic.

“We’re creating a private marketplace for our TV customers, allowing you to reserve ABC digital video using your buyer platform,” Wang said. “We’re going to work with FreeWheel in their just-announced FourFronts Programmatic initiative to combine data—yours, ours and third party—so you can target your best customers.”

The trial won’t intersect with real-time bidding and open exchanges, nor will it have any bearing on ad buys on ABC’s linear broadcast network. Instead, ABC looks to advance data-driven transactions, while furthering the cause of the sort of automation that is a hallmark of digital media. 

The initial trial will take place throughout the summer and will include digital video ad inventory across ABC Entertainment and News programming. Sibling cable net ABC Family also will be participating in the trial, making video inventory available across its digital portfolio of shows. 

The foray into programmatic will be limited to “reserved” inventory, which is another way of saying that clients will have to commit to spend levels in advance during a certain time period. The available spots are not remnant media, but high-profile digital avails across the ABC portfolio.

“We know how important it is to help our clients create value by making media more targeted and the transaction process more streamlined,” Wang said. “Our track record is to lead—we did it with digital distribution … and we will lead in the areas of data and automation as well.”

FreeWheel took the wraps off its FourFronts Programmatic offering earlier today. The New York-based company touts the pilot as the “first step in ensuring scalable value for both buyers and sellers in today’s evolving, unified television advertising marketplace.”

“Increasing efficiency of transaction through automation is clearly useful,” said Jon Heller, co-CEO and co-founder, FreeWheel. “Doing so in a way that also ensures [that] buyers’ media plans succeed and sellers get value for every impression means it can grow from a trial to a material segment of the TV business.”

Programmtic and trading desks are quickly becoming a familiar part of broadcast’s lingua franca. In April, NBCUniversal ad sales president Linda Yaccarino said the broadcast and cable network behemoth was ready, willing and able to sell a select percentage of its TV inventory programmatically in what would amount to a private exchange.

While the dry stuff was the biggest news of the ABC upfront, Kimmel once again made up for it with his monologue. The late-night host’s longstanding bite-the-hand-that-feeds routine wasn’t as biting as in years past, but he did take some good shots at rival networks. Among the lines that got the biggest laughs were:

1) “Having NBC be on top is like if your adult cousin who works at Arby’s suddenly gets a master's degree.”

2) “As far as I can tell, [Fox’s] Gotham is a show for people who love everything about Batman except Batman.”

3) And, as befits the premise of this entire piece: “Programmatic buying is the gluten of advertising. Programmatic sales will do the same job you do without wasting seven hours a day on Facebook. You’ll all be bartending at Applebee’s in a few years.”

Which isn’t to say that Kimmel didn’t get in a few jabs at his home network: “This year—and I’m being serious—all of our new shows will be canceled. … Don’t get attached to any of these new shows because it’s like adopting a kitten with cancer.”

Miraculously, none of the TV reporters assembled inside New York’s Avery Fisher Hall went on to post a flabbergasted think piece about how Kimmel likely doomed his fate with his cheeky monologue. It happens.