Discovery yesterday announced it is buying a ten percent minority stake in OpenAP, a US broadcaster consortium based around audience addressability and measurement. The move adds Discovery as a fourth owner of the venture alongside NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, and FOX. And assuming Discovery’s planned merger with WarnerMedia goes ahead, it could bring WarnerMedia back into the fold too. Turner, an old division which sat inside WarnerMedia before it was broken up by parent company AT&T, was one of the original founders of OpenAP.
The addition of Discovery, and potentially WarnerMedia further down the line, is a significant coup for the consortium. With these two on board, OpenAP would have most of the major US TV network owners involved, with Disney an obvious exception.
But to understand the importance of Discovery’s part ownership, it’s important to understand exactly what it is that OpenAP does – something that’s not always easy to follow, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
From aligning datasets to unified measurement
OpenAP launched to a bit of fanfare back in 2016, with the stated aim of standardising data sets relating to addressable TV advertising. But since then the alliance has evolved significantly.
The three founders – Fox, Viacom, and Turner – had put a significant amount of work into OpenAP prior to its public launch, working with Accenture to facilitate standardised datasets for advanced audience targeting across all three broadcasters. Essentially what this meant is that if an advertisers wanted to target a specific audience that’s more advanced than traditional segments like age and gender, they could work with OpenAP to define those audiences, incorporating first and/or third-party data in the process. Advertisers would then know that those audiences were being defined and measured in the same way across all three broadcasters.
These early capabilities got a boost in 2018 when NBCUniversal joined in 2018. Not only did this bring NBCU’s data segmentation in line with the other three founders’, but it also added access to various data tools owned by NBCU’s parent company Comcast including NBCU’s Audience Graph and FreeWheel’s shared insights platforms.
In the first few years, brands and agencies would work with OpenAP to define their audiences, but would then have to separately execute buys with each of the individual broadcasters. That changed with the launch of the OpenAP Market in 2019, which let advertisers plan and buy campaigns directly through OpenAP, optimising buys across the broadcasters involved (an evolution which may have contributed to Turner bowing out of the consortium earlier in the year).
The platform is now seeing significant sums flowing through its pipes, with OpenAP claiming that “half a billion in publisher-driven advertising sales [are] expected to run through OpenAP in fiscal year 2022”.
These trading capabilities were strengthened further last year with the launch of a supply-side platform. CEO David Levy pitches the primary benefit of the SSP as enabling buyers to see availability of linear inventory across broadcasters in real time, making for more efficient buys.
But the main focus for the consortium was building out cross-platform measurement capabilities, firstly through the creation of its OpenID identifier, and then through its XPm measurement framework. Combined, these tools take OpenAP beyond standardised data sets, enabling targeting and measurement of unified audiences across different broadcasters. This allows advertisers to measure things like deduplicated reach across different broadcasters, and measure average frequency per OpenID.
These last two initiatives – OpenID and XPm, already involved broadcasters who weren’t part of OpenAP, including Discovery and WarnerMedia. So Discovery’s partnership with OpenAP won’t change much on this front.
One thing that is new is Discovery’s commitment to activating audiences centrally through OpenAP. Advertisers will be able to activate the same standardised audience on Discovery’s inventory as they do with the other founding members, making for more consistent and efficient TV buys.
What’s not clear is how much Discovery inventory -if any – will be sold through OpenAP Market. Such a move would be significant, especially if WarnerMedia were included further down the line. The marketplace is already handling a sizeable amount of inventory. And folding in two of the biggest US networks would make its offering even stronger in the eyes of advertisers, offering more scale across most big TV channels – excluding Disney and players in local TV.
It seems likely that this will be the case – OpenAP CEO Levy referenced Discovery’s commitment “to work alongside us on [OpenAP’s] journey of propelling further growth of the marketplace”.
Beyond this, we could see Discovery’s various investments in measurement integrated into OpenAP, as was the case with NBCUniversal – though a lot of Discovery’s investments have come through partnerships with the likes of Comscore and Inscape, whose datasets are both already available through OpenAP in one form or another.
It will also be interesting to see if Discovery’s contribution to product direction sees OpenAP’s standards applied overseas too. Discovery, out of all the OpenAP owners, has the biggest proportion of its business based in Europe – but NBCU and ViacomCBS also directly or indirectly have substantial interests this side of the Atlantic too. But bringing these standards to Europe would be an arduous task – given the requirement to work market-by-market bringing local broadcasters on board.