Nigel Walley, managing director of media consultancy Decipher, is a big fan of addressable TV. UK advertisers, however, do not currently share his enthusiasm, and the reasons can be summed up in two words: distrust and confusion.

“Distrust is a serious issue for us as an industry,” according to Nigel Walley. He reached this conclusion  after undertaking a study into addressable TV for ISBA, the UK advertisers trade body.

This saw him conducting 25 research sessions with advertisers around the country – “they turned into whiteboard workshops because of the level of knowledge,” he said – where it became clear that the potential of addressable TV has been tainted by association.

“What we saw when we spoke to advertisers about addressable TV,” he told the recent Mediatel Future TV Advertising Forum, “is that some of the backwash of the problems in web advertising in general – social media advertising, UGC advertising – some of that backwash is being brought into the perceptions of addressable TV,” as people see the same names crop up in terms of suppliers and tech.

“Television has always prided itself on its brand safety – we are a safe and secure industry – and there was a sense that we are being affected by some of the bad things that are happening over in the web,” he reported.

As alarming as that is, TV is in no position to congratulate itself, as advertisers also questioned the credibility of the PR surrounding addressable TV. “A massive slice of the distrust issue comes from us, from things we have done as an industry,” said Walley. “It’s things like announcing the launch of products that don’t exist. There have been some big occasions in the last two years where stuff has been announced, but you scrape the surface of it and it really isn’t there.”

Alternatively, things have been mispositioned. Advertisers are told something is one thing when it’s actually another, or “it doesn’t really add up to the promise that’s being made in the headline.

“We have to be very careful in addressable TV not just not to over-promise but to be very specific about our promises,” Walley warned. “Advertisers are saying ‘we no longer trust some of the announcements we’re hearing in the industry about these things’.”

Even more important, he suggested, is tackling the air of confusion to which this has contributed. “The landscape that is arriving is both complex and nuanced,” he said – in the products themselves, the use of data, the way audiences and users are treated – and “one of the things the advertisers were saying to us is that we as an industry are not helping them understand this stuff”.

Part of the issue is around inconsistent use of language and terminology, he suggested. “I have a personal horror of the TV versus digital debate … that phrase should be expunged from our industry.” One of the things that emerged from the workshops, he added, was the lack of clarity over what actually constitutes television. “Their [advertisers] starting point for when they think about telly is old-fashioned telly. 

“They’re beginning to understand the nuances between IP linear-delivered television and broadcast but they want their agencies and their tech partners to be able to discuss this and work with them to understand it.”

It’s a similar picture when it comes to SVOD and online video; nor is there a detailed conversation taking place about the differences in the devices being used; “we’re just hearing ‘addressable TV’” is the complaint of advertisers, who are conscious that there are a number of different contexts in which their advertising can be seen. “They believe that addressable is a subset of the targeting world, but they’re very conscious there’s a certain level of targeting you can achieve on a shared screen, which isn’t what they’re hearing discussed when suppliers come from the mobile or web industries. They want to understand the differences between addressable and things like TAM.”

Not only that but “the user device world is not being articulated clearly”, he argued: the addressable TV experience for a user device linked to a platform very different to that available via an app owned by a broadcaster: the amount of data is different and the ability to target is different – which advertisers know but they report that the way it’s being sold doesn’t reflect that.  

At the same time, there is a cacophony of claims which advertisers are struggling to interpret. “All they’re hearing is multiple conflicting and overlapping stories from different parts of the value chain trying to pitch them an addressable TV solution,” said Walley. “We need to go back and put it into the broader context that the advertisers understand.”

Agencies, meanwhile, need to get their hands dirty at the sharp end. According to Walley, many advertisers say their agencies don’t like to get involved in the details, but that’s actually what they want – for their professional advisers to explain “the pipes, the bells and whistles”, to tell them how Sky AdSmart differs from an addressable TV.

“If we can’t explain it we’re going to have trouble selling it,” he pointed out, “because the biggest message we heard all the way through is ‘why would we give our money to people who we don’t even believe understand their own product’.”