With the virtual NewFront and Upfront presentations having concluded, the race for premium, quality, brand safe impressions for the 2021-2022 advertising season is officially on. And with CPM increases for premium inventory in the 30%+ range, buyers are looking for quality innovative, and efficient inventory alternatives. In this interview with MediaVillage, Hasan Rahim (pictured above), Vice President of Advanced TV at a4 Advertising, the news, and advertising division for Cheddar News, News12, News12+, i24News, and the entire Altice USA MVPD footprint, shares insights he’s learned over the past year and explains why a4 Advertising should be a strong consideration for buyers in the pursuit of their target audiences on the big screen.

a4 Advertising reaches over 120MM HHs with 90MM HHs reachable on cable. Optimum, formerly provided by Cablevision, has been a pioneer of linear addressable TV since the very early days. With the move to audience-based buying and HH addressability, Rahim notes, that first mover advantage is proving to be a true asset.

MediaVillage: Can you give us an update on the scalability of addressable TV?

Hassan Rahim: From a scale perspective, it’s never been bigger and it continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Linear addressable TV alone is going to hit a 50%+ cable universe penetration by the end of the year. As scale exceeds the tipping point, the “how” and “why” become even more important. It needs to be a well-considered strategy from beginning to end. If you have the ability to do all of this awesome targeting and deliver specific creative to specific audiences and measure, but you only have a single creative, what’s the point? Are you using the advanced analytics that are now possible in your linear addressable TV campaigns to help inform your overall TV strategy? The creative and strategy teams need to be in sync and fully involved with their agency partners right from the beginning.

MediaVillage: In addition to HH addressable, you have a product that you refer to as national optimized linear. Can you explain what that is and what you believe it adds to a marketer’s media plan?

Rahim: Sure. Some folks refer to it as data-driven linear TV as well. Using proprietary technology, our experience as the 4th largest MVPD in the country, and established relationships with other MVPDs across the country, we are able to plan/execute/optimize/measure/report on nationally distributed linear TV campaigns using advanced audience data, transacted on Nielsen Live+3 or Commercial+3 impressions as the currency. Over the years, Altice USA has invested in multiple, smaller nimble companies offering expertise in specific quadrants of the media ecosystem, which are all coming together to offer our clients an end-to-end solution.

Additionally, since Altice USA is also a marketer, with annual paid media spend in the hundreds of millions a year, we have been enhancing our capabilities on our own marketing plans over the years and are now able to offer these highly-vetted solutions to external clients through a4 Advertising.

MediaVillage: At the beginning of the pandemic there were a lot of unknowns and clearly volatility. In 2021 do you see another round of volatility as media consumption segues into a post-pandemic hybrid-work model?

Rahim: I think 2020 was a necessary wake-up call to those who had been hesitant to embrace the changes that we’ve all been witnessing over the past decade. For a4 Advertising, 2020 was unexpectedly somewhat positive, given the circumstances. We all know that there has been a massive shift in consumption from live to streaming (both live and on-demand), in an incredibly short amount of time. Given how slowly we tend to react to big changes, the gap between expectations and realities is still quite large. A lot of people are still stuck in the mindset of “but two years ago this was my 18-49 CPM and why should it be different now?” I think it’s going to take a while, as it always does, for realities to merge. There’s a palpable shift towards technology, metrics, mechanics, and highly measurable KPIs that in the past weren’t part of the Upfront conversations. It’s been fascinating to see where it’s been less about comedy and entertainment and more about value and measurement in the 2021 Upfront presentations.

MediaVillage: With this shift to OTT viewing, we hear pronouncements of fluidity and movement of traditional linear dollars into the OTT space. Earlier this year, Nielsen pointed out that over 42% of all OTT viewing was on non-ad-supported services and even the AVOD services have limited ad load. In your opinion, is there enough inventory available for this shift?

Rahim: I don’t think so. I think even 42% seems too low. I think it’s probably closer to 80%, at best, 20% of total streaming is actually ad insertable. I think digital did itself a disservice over time wherein just because you can measure it doesn’t make it worth measuring. You can and should measure, but what you do with those results matters more than just measuring them. This shift to addressability at scale within live programming is going to give parity, from a targeting, measurement, and analytics perspective to what’s still the biggest reach vehicle out there, linear TV. If you’re going to shift dollars to streaming to reach the non-linear viewer, that’s not a bad idea, and we offer similar incremental reach opportunities tied to our Linear TV buys, but you’re going to run out of inventory fairly quickly. If it’s to measure and glean insights that can help inform your biggest spend in the video landscape, linear TV, in a somewhat dynamic, in-campaign cadence, that makes more sense.

MediaVillage: The biggest buzzword of the year last year was “flexibility.” Both sides, buyer and seller, recognized the impact of the pandemic and behaved accordingly. As we come out of that, especially recognizing how surprisingly strong the market held towards the latter half of last year, how much of that “flexible” behavior will remain? Is the adversarial relationship between buyer and seller returning?

Rahim: I think it is, more so than it should be. I think it’s part of human nature to go back to something that is known, especially after the last 12-15 months. Prior to the pandemic, we knew our roles, you were a buyer or a seller. You “battled” and after the end of the day, you put that aside and socialized, had a drink, ate a piece of finely marbled beef. It is kind of going there, but because of all the collaboration that happened last year, I think it’s not as contentious as it was. At a4 Advertising, we take a client-first approach, and offer our decades-long experience as an ISP, distributor, programmer, and marketer, using best-in-class data in a privacy-protected manner, across our owned and operated footprint all the way to the full national TV map. While flexibility has typically been valued and priced at a premium, we feel that flexibility is now table stakes.

MediaVillage: A lot of buyers know the historical a4 Advertising as a regional buy. How have you been able to get over that perception to be considered as a national solution for premium, brand safe inventory?

Rahim: Over the years, through growth and acquisitions, we’ve added a lot of digital-centric capabilities that we are packaging with our linear products, starting with ourselves. We beta-test them on ourselves first, make improvements and adjustments, and then offer them to our clients. We offer extended and incremental reach using deterministic, authenticated IP-based measurement and targeting. We have almost 50mm HH on an IP basis that we can use to measure, target, and optimize (privacy compliant) which is huge given the cookie and ID issues. We have been onboarding first-party data for years through our Compiler product in a clean, privacy-protected environment. We’ve automated a lot of the pain point processes in the planning and execution to where it’s now at scale. We offer the advertiser the ability to get as targeted as they want, or not, with the flexibility of an easy in and out of the marketplace at a fixed CPM where we assume all the risk.

Change has happened. As the volume of quality TV data continues to grow, and the friction slowing the sharing of said data diminishes, the gap between digital and linear will continue to shrink. The value of reaching a consumer on the big screen remains as strong as ever, and at a4 Advertising, we’ve been in the game longer than most.

Paraphrased from an article originally published on Media Village on 6/15/2021.

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