Unification: The Path to Scale and Simplicity

Terra Mrkulic Social Media & Content Marketing Director

Like all mass media, the TV and premium video industry is in a time of transition: digital technology is impacting the way people choose to consume media which has far reaching consequences. Reports of TV’s death have been greatly exaggerated but there is no doubt that viewing habits are creating more complexity for the media owner, the brand advertiser, and everyone in between.

The good news is that while linear TV viewing may be declining, total audience/viewing of video is up, affirming the need to re-aggregate these fragmented audiences to achieve scale across the array of new screens.

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As Needham & Co.’s The Future of TV 2016 report states,Paths to the consumer are proliferating, driven by technology. Although total viewing of TV and film content (also called long-form premium video content) is growing, it is being spread across a myriad of devices, adding to measurement complexity.”

Along with this increased measurement complexity, fragmentation has created significant operational and technical challenges and it’s vital that all stakeholders in the premium video economy align on terms and language so that we can clear some of the barriers of misunderstanding. There is undoubted value in setting the record straight in order to take full advantage of cross-screen executions.

The Definition and Benefits of Unification

This is the first in a series of FreeWheel Council for Premium Video (FWC) publications regarding the concept of “unification.” We define unification as one audience, regardless of viewing method, available to an advertiser.

Behind this simple definition is a lot of detail: the operational and technical aspect of delivering ads fluidly across all screens, being able to target and verify the audience across all platforms, acknowledging that we now live in a world of federated measurement where no single currency provider has full-coverage across all viewing environments. In the future, we will be exploring where we need to go as an industry to create scale and simplicity in premium video, informed by custom research and thought leader perspectives.

The re-aggregation of cross-screen reach provides marketers with the opportunity to drive results at scale, with digital video complementing linear television investments. According to the ARF in its “How Advertising Works” study, “The more platforms the better. The strongest interaction between two platforms is television plus digital. That yields a dollar and sixty cents of ROI, 60 percent greater ROI than just television alone.”

Similarly, an Accenture/ABC study illustrates a halo effect of “multiplatform TV” on other forms of digital marketing and how it has a long-term impact on driving incremental sales. The FWC will continue to explore how multi-screen video advertising drives positive business outcomes for marketers in future research and publications.

Premium video audiences across screens are highly engaged, and the extension of viewing across all screens will often only increase that engagement (think on-demand platforms where viewers have explicitly opted to watch a piece of content). Younger, often more affluent viewers, which represent a valuable segment for marketers, are consuming more of their content away from the linear TV feed. This behavior not only demonstrates a need to consider budget allocation towards these platforms, but also the need for measurement to fully capture the entire audience for a piece of content.

In theory, there are operational efficiencies in executing a single campaign across multiple screens, but in practice, the operational workload can be more challenging. Digital, in general, is more cumbersome than linear to implement. Based on FWC member input, digital video can take six to seven times as long to execute from proposal through to invoice, as linear campaigns.

Part of the challenge here is double/triple data entry but a lot of it comes down to multiple metrics and currencies that are required to transact across all screens. As digital becomes a larger share of media consumption and marketing investment, we need to simplify and streamline in order to scale. We will address currencies and measurement more deeply in our upcoming publications.

A Common Understanding of Diverse Screens

The industry needs to take a step back and focus on finding a common language when discussing unifying screens, audiences, and metrics. By establishing a commonly acceptable baseline, we are better able to tackle more complex issues once we have addressed the simplest element first.

There are myriad terms used to describe the concept of cross-screen and the unification of platforms. Confusion reigns due to the inconsistency of terms and currencies for premium video flowing over multiple devices and platforms.

Terms such as convergence, cross-platform, multi-screen, screen-agnostic, unified or fluidity deals can all mean the same thing, or potentially something different depending on your perspective: linear vs digital heritage, buyer vs seller, sales vs research etc. They will also be used interchangeably while referring to different parts of the operational workflow and transactional processes. Different concepts such as day parting, addressability, CPM’s, GRP’s and viewability may or may not be applicable, depending on the screens/platforms involved in the media plan.

So how do we align on a common understanding to fully enable the unification of screens for premium video? A great deal of work has already been done by numerous industry bodies to create glossaries of commonly used terms, and we would encourage that work to continue to foster alignment for the industry. However, the application of those terms and the resulting metrics associated with cross screen executions is where additional clarity could be beneficial.  Below is a proposed framework to classify the many different types of content and platforms which can be combined to create a unified campaign.

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This matrix highlights the challenge that fragmentation has created for content and advertising providers across premium video as well as the need to decode and stitch together the verification of cross-screen campaigns. The concept of a single currency, given the nuances of these diverse screens and viewing options, is hard to fathom and so there is a clear need for flexibility in the application of multiple currencies and metrics to fully deliver cross-screen opportunities. We will explore the path to federated measurement in our future work.


It is vital for us, as an industry, to agree and unify on a common understanding so we are better equipped to overcome the operational and transactional challenges of cross-screen execution.  A lack of a common understanding of terms should not be the excuse for the industry to stagnate– too much is at stake. If we are using the same language and concepts, then the dialogue to move the industry forward will be more fruitful.