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Interview: Matt Seiler, Global CEO, Universal McCann: Current Ad-Sales System Is 'Ridiculous'

This story was written by Staci D. Kramer.
Beyond the buzz about TV Everywhere or any of the options being tossed around for making programming available across platforms, lies a simple economic reality: in order to make any of it work, advertisers will have to pay for a viewer's attention regardless of the platform. That would mean a dramatic shift from a world where value is based on the screen being viewed to a unified theory of advertising. As The Cable Show concluded in Washington, D.C., late last week, I asked Matt Seiler, the global CEO of Interpublic's Universal McCann, what it would take to truly sell ads across platforms. Seiler, who took that job last August and has since reorganized the ad agency, bluntly listed the current buying system, including the upfronts, as an obstacle holding everyone back: "It's ridiculous. It is not consumer oriented. It's not client oriented. It's antiquated-industry oriented." Edited excerpts from our conversation follow:

Staci D. Kramer: You talked a little bit about how to get to a unified audience, a unified sell. You're interested in accelerating things. What actually has to happen?

Matt Seiler: That's such a great question. I want to solve for an industry issue but as UM, I can't really change the entire market dynamics. We're creating a new division within our organization that gets to the media owners much, much, much earlier in the process than what typically happens. The way that it usually works is there's a buyer that works with the sales person around a specific medium late in the process so planners and clients have decided what the target audience is going to be and what the media mix is going to be, and too often it's what the media mix was last year. ... All of that stuff is predetermined so how much can we really do things differently if there are that many givens?

What we're trying to do is get to the media owner really early in the process, not necessarily the sales person, to say here's what we're looking to accomplish on behalf of our client, here's what the business objective is and here specifically is the target audience and everything that we know about them. And then allow the media owner the time to come back to us and say, 'Here's what's coming out of my studio, here's what I've got in branded content avails in television, whether that's broadcast or cable. Here's what my outdoor locations are.' If I do a good enough job telling you who my consumer is, talk to me about how you can aggregate all of those resources upon my consumer's behalfand then we'll get into what does it cost and how much of that is stuff that I already have commitments for and how much is it that I don't already have commitments for.  That's my desire and I want to do that right this second. I've got some clients coming along with my right now. I can't say who. We're close.

That's the ideal reality and we're available to do that today. Cut to what we're actually doing today: there is the cable upfront and it is a seller's market that determines how much cable you need to commit to now before you even know what your business objectives are or what your communications spend is. And then you scurry on over to the broadcasters, and you go to their upfront to get you to commit to, as (*CBS* CEO) Les Moonves says, even more money for the same sh*t that has fewer people watching it. I'm not sure how that works. And then you go over to another segment and each of those discussions involves a different set of people and a different pre-determined amount of money. It's ridiculous. It is not consumer oriented, it's not client oriented. It's antiquated-industry oriented.

What I'd like to have happen is have all of us on the buying side agree that we're just not going to do this anymore, that having a system that was set up for U.S. automotives as they launched new models in the all doesn't really make sense any more. There barely are U.S. automotives, never mind models that ought to be determining the entire way that we buy. But we as an industry are not quite ready to lock arms because there are basis points that we're afraid of losing, commitments we're afraid of losing, there's all those properties.

Nobody wants to be the one to play Jenga, to pull the little block out and see if the tower will stand.
Because what if we're wrong. 

So is that standing in the way of something like what Jeff Bewkes is talking about with TV Everywhere?

Totally. It's their big problem because they compensate their people on the silos into which they fall. It's our problem because the people we have buying fit exactly into those silos. And it's our clients' problems because, for the most part, our clients are segmented that way, too. There is their digital person, there is their direct person. They have their own little groups of fiefdoms. We haven't pushed as far as we need to I think the consumer isn't really demanding this stuff yet because the consumer doesn't really predict the future terribly well so the consumer isn't saying give me all my programming everywhere I want it all the time. The consumer is saying, 'I found it over there, so I'll go there.'

Isn't there also the issue of which consumer are you programming for? Are you programming for that narrow group that's the early adopter who knows how to plug in their HDMIand knows what HDMI is? Or are you dealing with a person who isn't going to use it until there's a remote with a text keyboardand maybe not then?

We are a quick-to-mass society so as we find a way to Twitter, we all find a way to Twitter. Then afterwards we wonder, do I actually care about Twitter? We're on Facebook because we gotta be on Facebook. Same deal.

I think what will happen is when addressabilityand particularly the interactivity of addressabilityhappens, then you're going to start doing it and Melanie's going to find out you're doing it then I better do it too because you're doing it. But that hasn't happened yet. There isn't this story of how you found your way to interact with your television or how you found a way to get the communications that you most want whenever where ever. We're almost there.

Is it artificial to have broadcast freely available with ad-support only but then make some cable available only to video subscribers?

It's confusing as hell, isn't it?

Is ABC.com's advertising more valuable to you than ABC on Hulu or ABC on *Google* or does it matter?

That's a really tough question to answer. Wherever the audience is most engagedwe all talk about engagement but nobody knows what we meanbut wherever it is that you can find the audience who is most involved with, caring the most about the programming and therefore the advertising that's attached, that's going to be of greatest value. Right now, we don't have a consistent measurement for thatthat's why we all talk about engagement because we can hide behind itbut that's what we really want to find so if I can find on Hulu or I can find on ABC.com an audience that is paying more attention to my communications, then I'll pay more for it especially if I can track it.

So tracking is what matters?

Tracking matters a ton. If I'm on dot.com or if I'm on Hulu, I've got a much better chance of seeing what they're doing and who they are and what they've done post-my communication, then I do en masse.

If I'm a subscriber who gets TBS or TNT from my cable provider and then I can also get it through TV Everywhere, am I more or less valuable to you than that person wh watches ABC on Hulu or online elsewhere? Is there a difference between the broadcast viewer and the cable subscriber online?

The cable subscriber online had the potential to be of greater value because there is more data collected about that audience. Today, is that person more valuable? Not necessarily, because I'm not really getting that data, but it's there.

So what you really want is if ABC's going to make that choice or someone else, it's going to be to somebody who collects that kind of data?

And then serve it up to me in a way I can use. 


By Staci D. Kramer

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