At Local Media Association’s recent Digital Revenue Summit, two virtual sessions focused on revenue strategies for Over-The-Top and Connected TV, including how to hone the pitch and a deep dive into owned-and-operated strategies. Here are some key highlights and takeaways noted by LMA staff.

Honing the pitch for OTT/CTV

This session featured two veterans of digital sales leadership for broadcast groups — all neck-deep in Connected TV strategies, growing revenue and client demand — and one digital executive for a metropolitan newspaper media company that has seen success selling OTT/CTV advertising despite being a non-incumbent in the video space.

How does that happen? With an audience-focused sales approach and plenty of training, according to Shaun Fogarty, executive director of sales, Virginia Media.

“We’re traditionally known as a newspaper company, but our sales process and the way that we focus going to market is looking to find the right audiences for our prospects and advertisers,” Fogarty said. “So we really want to hone in on who that prospect or advertiser is trying to reach, what does that audience look like and then apply solutions against that.

“When we talk about opportunities with Connected TV and OTT, they are viewed as natural extensions to reaching that audience that would [build on] a typical print campaign, or digital audience extension,” he said.

Fogarty said Virginia Media sells advertising into the Google suite of solutions, including YouTube in particular. “It is really easy in a needs analysis to ask the customer or prospect, ‘do they have video assets?’ That opens the door to executing campaigns across various distribution channels, of which OTT and CTV become a natural fit,” he said.

In training sales staff, Fogarty said, Virginia Media instructs them to focus on identifying the right audiences for clients’ messaging and then finding the right avenues to reach those audiences — instead of responding to the sales-contest-of-the-moment or “whatever else is in the background.”

Meanwhile, two major broadcast groups have developed sales strategies aimed at answering key questions and requests from clients, including:

  • Differentiating high-quality video inventory and audience from poor-quality or outright fraudulent activity in the OTT/CTV space.
  • Demonstrating that Connected TV advertising is an established, growing platform for video messaging, with audiences that are strongly engaged.
  • Performance attribution for CTV ads.
  • Connecting OTT/CTV campaigns with clients’ first-party data to address their known customers and prospects.

Regarding video ad fraud and ways to distinguish from it, both Brian Hunt, head of OTT/CTV advertising sales, Sinclair Digital Group, and Jesse McCambridge, senior director, digital revenue and sales strategy, Cox Media Group said their respective companies have adopted measures to stand apart from bad actors.

“There is very little fraud in CTV relative to other media, but it’s getting higher [revenue per thousand impressions] relative to other verticals, so there is a motivation among bad actors to commit fraud,” Hunt said. “You have to be able to measure invalid traffic to some degree. It’s a quality issue for the product.”

“We have a lot of things in place so we try to hit that issue up front and build confidence with clients,” McCambridge said. “Reporting deep analytics on campaigns is paramount. Usually we don’t see any reports or concerns from sellers or clients until we get line-item-deep reporting and might see a questionable provider. We have had to cut out a few sources here and there.”

Manageable risk of fraud aside, McCambridge and Hunt both like to focus sales attention on the robust audience size and growth in Connected TV.

Hunt said now that more than 200 million people in the U.S. use Connected TV in some form, the whole concept is no longer new. “[The CTV industry] expects $11 billion in projected income in 2021, and that’s a 40% increase.”

“We have seen a tremendous spike in what we have for impressions, viewers and audiences,” McCambridge said. “Our focus with sellers is to show clients this is how you advertise where people are, and to tell our own user stories. I think about mobile 10-15 yrs ago. Our best sellers could tell the story of them looking things up on their mobile phone. Telling your own story through your own habits is tremendous.”

Astute clients and prospects have learned not only about the scope of CTV audiences, but about new ways to reach their own customers and prospects. “We’re starting to see more and more requests for CRM data activation, which is taking a customer’s first party data and serving ad campaigns to that,” Hunt said.

After the sale, how do clients know their ad campaigns work as they intended? Attempts to answer that question have created a buzz word — attribution — and plenty of confusion around what it means and how to report on it.

“Attribution is probably the most misunderstood word of the moment,” Hunt said. “With all the different types of attribution, it involves all sorts of training with sales reps to understand because clients will ask for it and it is easy to get down too far into the minutiae of it.”

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Much of the revenue local media gain from Over-The-Top and Connected TV comes from selling others’ inventory across third-party platforms. This session, however, focused on what local media outlets are doing to develop owned-and-operated content, products and revenue in the space.

Ron Stitt, vice president and general manager at NewsON, set the stage for the conversation by comparing owned-and-operated CTV products to distribution deals with streaming services: The distribution deals might achieve greater reach, while O&O products might induce greater engagement with local audiences.

“It’s echoes of when the industry brought mobile apps out a few years ago. If you own content and you want to distribute it — and as broadcasters, we’re in the reach business — you don’t want to lose that reach,” Stitt said.

“If you own content and you want to distribute it — and as broadcasters, we’re in the reach business — you don’t want to lose that reach.”

Ron Stitt, vice president and general manager at NewsON

For media groups that offer both O&O products and extended ad inventory through other streaming platforms, opportunities exist to make the sum greater than the parts for ad clients. Michael Newman, lead developer/architect, Graham Media Group, explains:

“Layering O&O OTT and some of the products and opportunities there are really some interesting buys to be had, including complements for local linear inventory buys as well as larger CTV buys,” he said. “You also get a lot more control [with O&O] over the brand safety of the ad environment.”

People who download and use local stations’ own OTT applications generally are looking for live linear TV programming and news, Newman said, and that’s a real differentiator vs. the CTV platforms.

“We can offer different products not always available on the open marketplace, including display ads and overlays, long-form content including long-form commercials, and branded content packages,” he said.

Maria Farricielli, vice president, digital sales strategy and operations at FOX Television Stations, agreed that local stations bring unique value to the Connected TV landscape.

“We’re lucky, being O&O properties, that we have so much content,” Farricielli said. “We have something special, content programming, live sports, big events, local market news and specials.”

Farricielli also noted the value to advertisers of content and audience niches.

“We consume content when we want to, where we want to,” she said. “I switch over to Magnolia Network and watch that cooking show when I want to. We’re trying to instill that idea at the local level.

“If you want to ‘niche down’ and get that perfect audience, this is the platform,” Farricielli added. “I remember the first time I saw analytics of what the potential was, I nearly fell off my chair. This really is what I would call a game-changer, to be able to niche down and do wonderful things with a niche audience and really deliver on it.”

Adam Wiener, executive vice president and general manager, CBS Television Stations Local Digital Media, stressed the importance of ramping up CTV products amid the decline of cable/satellite delivery of TV programming.

“You’ve been living under a rock if you hadn’t noticed pay TV is declining, has been declining for years,” Wiener said. “We have cord-cutters and cord-nevers, the people who never had cable. The trick is understanding how we’re going to reach that audience. Not to say linear TV is not valuable — it still drives a ton of reach and revenue.”

And it isn’t just the major-brand streaming services that are capturing viewer attention, he said.

“People are moving to streaming services that are baked into the hardware they’re buying,” Wiener said. “All of the [TV set] manufacturers all have their own versions of free TV, their own versions of the Plutos and Tubis of the world. So cord-cutters and cord-nevers, if they’re buying a new TV, they still might not think they need to buy content because they’re getting a streaming experience with a program guide.”

So your station deploys an OTT/CTV app and begins building audiences for it. What about local advertisers? Are they ready to be there?

“Smaller advertisers have become very comfortable and familiar with OTT platforms, being able to buy smaller campaigns, and geotargeting became really important to them,” Farricielli said. “Now we’re capitalizing on budgets that might have gone to print or billboards or radio. … Buyers are open to discussing with us how we go forward in this space and work together.”

Wiener agreed. “I’m pretty bullish on all this, but I tell you that I think it’s really a tried and true method of seeing that video is really engaging. And in CTV it’s really ‘lean-back,’ just like a linear TV experience — but it is also targeting and addressability.

“If you’re coming in saying I want to shift some of these dollars, we have the tools to keep our share or even demonstrate value that increases our share,” he added. “If you can’t get people to understand the value of video engagement you’re in the wrong business. Buyers want something that looks and feels like TV. That’s why we’re seeing linear buyers now more than ever being able to place digital budgets they would not have been able to do before.”

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