FreeWheel's Doug Knopper

Group Formed to Protect Content in Digital World

A+E, Comcast, Discovery, Disney, Fox, NBCU, Turner and Univision join council spearheaded by FreeWheel

A group of top TV companies have joined an advocacy group to maintain the value of their content as the advertising world becomes more digital and programmatic.

Organized by ad-tech firm FreeWheel, the Council for Premium Video already includes ABC, A+E Networks, Comcast, Discovery Communications, ESPN, Fox, NBCUniversal, Turner Broadcasting and Univision Communications.

Advertisers and media buyers are increasingly interested in analyzing data about viewers and using automated systems to purchase commercials during linear and on-demand programming—a situation that might not always take the quality of the shows into account. In other media, particularly website banner advertising, programmatic buying has contributed to sharp declines in ad prices.

“Everyone in this premium video ecosystem is concerned that the standards and the practices that are being created are not for a premium video world, they’re for the digital world,” says Doug Knopper, cofounder and coCEO of FreeWheel. “Their risk of being pulled toward different ways of doing business that aren’t in their best interest is dramatic.”

FreeWheel was acquired by Comcast last year and operates independently from both Comcast’s cable unit and from NBCUniversal. But Knopper said “Comcast is supportive of what we’re doing.”

The council is not a trade association, Knopper said. Nor will it propose standards on its own. But it will study and advocate on issues affecting the content business. The first issue it will look at is the value of premium content, followed by a white paper on programmatic buying.

“We’re big supporters in parts of programmatic. Premium programmatic, the intersection of premium and programmatic, is pretty powerful,” he said. “But there’s a lot that’s particularly dangerous too. Programmatic could lead to a race to the bottom. It could lead to a race to the top. It just depends on how it’s done.”

FreeWheel has been involved in tests of programmatic by ABC and others.

Knopper says that the group isn’t in a position to dictate terms to advertisers. "Advertisers have all sorts of other non-premium opportunities to get in front of the audience," he said. Media companies have been eager to join the group and contribute their voices to the launch, Knopper said.

“The Council for Premium Video will not only serve as a unified voice advocating on behalf of premium video publishers, it will also play a key role in providing marketers with insights on the value of premium video and enable them to unlock the true power of premium content across all linear and digital opportunities,” Rick Mandler, VP strategy and digital media advertising at Disney/ABC Digital Media Group, said in a statement.

“The FreeWheel Council comes at a time when the industry is navigating significant and rapid change,” added Michael Strober, senior of client insights and innovation at Turner Broadcasting Ad Sales.

“With cross-platform viewership increasing rapidly, new data-driven and targeting capabilities, alongside measurement, is becoming key pieces of the premium video value proposition,” said Krishan Bhatia, executive VP, digital strategy & operations, at NBCUniversal. “Together with the FreeWheel Council we aim to further the premium video economy across all screens.”

FreeWheel’s Knopper says he is optimistic that the digital world would create opportunities for premium content.

“I think that we’re on the cusp of the very beginning of an amazing time for the premium world. The consumer’s the end beneficiary. They get to watch great content wherever they want to watching it and whenever they want to watch it,” he said. “We think that if we do our jobs right with the premium video advocacy, then that just improves the health of the players in the space and they can provide additional content and the consumer gets to watch even more content.”