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HbbTV gives broadcasters the means to test-and-learn addressable TV independently of Pay TV operators

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With first-party data available via registrations and log-ins on its streaming services, and with HbbTV television sets providing consumption data when consumers are watching its channels, RTL Group has been growing its data capabilities. Now the company is starting to leverage its audience insights to give advertisers more targeting options, not only on digital but also on linear broadcast TV.

When it comes to broadcasting, the company views HbbTV – with its ability to insert IP delivered graphics or video into broadcast signals within a television or set-top box –  as a way to start experimenting seriously with addressable TV advertising. This technology means RTL can develop addressable sales know-how and sales products independently of the Pay TV community while it figures out what collaborations are possible with operators.

Henry Rivero, VP Advanced Advertising & Innovation at RTL Group, considers HbbTV a means to build an addressable business with meaningful scale – and he points out that Pay TV footprints do not provide whole-market coverage in various key markets, like Germany, so an independent broadcaster solution for free-to-air broadcasting is necessary to achieve the reach advertisers want.

Speaking on a recent Videonet webcast called, ‘Implementing Broadcaster Addressable TV using HbbTV’ (and which you can hear on-demand via this link) Rivero confirmed that the broadcasters cannot rely only on their digital streaming services to provide targeting solutions. Broadcast still has the mass-reach, and there are cost considerations, too. “If you look at the economics, digital can become quite expensive if one reaches the scale that broadcast offers.”

So far, most of the HbbTV advertising work by RTL has involved IP-delivered display ads that are overlaid on the broadcast signal. These could be an ‘L’ shaped graphic that wraps around the broadcast picture or a banner-type presentation. More recently the company has been trialling full ad replacement, where a suitably enabled HbbTV television set switches momentarily from the advertisement contained in the broadcast signal to an IP-delivered ad, and then back again once the replacement ad has played out to the consumer.

The penetration of televisions containing the most recent HbbTV specifications has limited how far RTL Group can scale its HbbTV-enabled ad-replacement. While the 1.5 version of the spec supports ad replacement, there are a number of important improvements in the 2.0 and 2.0.1 versions that make full frame accuracy possible and therefore guarantee a better user experience.

The user experience is high on Rivero’s mind. He also expressed concerns about the consistency of device performance across the market and concluded: “The ad replacement is what we need to work on next with the standard.”

Rivero made it clear that addressable TV is not the only game in town when it comes to data-enriched advertising. Responding to advertiser requests for more targeting, the company is also looking at data-optimised advertising across the classic linear schedule.

Understanding the profile of a household is not considered a problem, despite the fact that broadcasters have no billing (and therefore credit card) relationship with a free-to-air viewer. Rivero explains: “Broadcasters have been investing heavily in their own data capabilities, including launching their own device graphs.

“The beauty of HbbTV is that one can immediately identify when someone has switched onto a given [broadcast] channel. At that point you can draw their [e.g. television] device into your graph and use your understanding of their likes and dislikes from the other devices they use, which are in the ‘graph’.”

Thus, broadcasters can associate us with primarily digital media consumption on devices that are linked to the same IP address as the television or STB through which the broadcast channel is viewed. The reason broadcasters know we have tuned into their channel is because on an HbbTV-enabled device, channel tune-in launches [from broadcasters offering HbbTV services] an application that opens on the device and starts providing feedback data to the broadcasters whose channel you are watching.

Rivero confirms the power of clustering devices and their usage. “We can arrive at a fairly good understanding of consumer behaviour in a household.”

RTL Group recently announced an alliance with  ProSiebenSat.1, a commercial broadcast competitor in Germany, for a joint buying platform that will give advertisers access to addressable inventory. This partly-anticipates the availability of HbbTV-enabled addressable TV inventory. “Both broadcasters are heavily invested in HbbTV,” Rivero confirms.

Leon Siotis, GM Revenue Europe at SpotX, the video advertising platform and programmatic pioneer that is part of the RTL Group, confirmed that one of the incentives for broadcasters to pursue an HbbTV addressable roadmap is the ability it gives them to embark on a test-and-learn process by themselves. “HbbTV gives them more control of their destiny, in a sense, though that does not mean they do not want to work with different ecosystem partners [e.g. Pay TV operators].”

Siotis echoed the need to address the total audience, beyond the Pay TV footprint, too. Drawing on his market-wide insights into what broadcasters are thinking, he said HbbTV is supported by the broadcast industry as a route to addressable advertising, although the level of support depends on each market, the scale of the opportunity and individual broadcaster priorities. “On paper, everyone supports HbbTV and thinks it is a good initiative,” he said.

Siotis confirmed that while there has been some work on ad replacement using HbbTV (like at RTL in Germany and M6 in France – the latter anticipating a relaxation in regulations that currently prohibit broadcast stream ad replacement) the current market opportunity is for graphical ‘overlay’ style advertising. “The real money is on the display side, using the existing linear ad but adding some form of personalisation on top of it,” he observes. “We are still in the trial and testing phase for video ad replacement with HbbTV. I would call them proof-of-concepts.”

Frode Hernes, SVP of Product Management at Vewd, the TV software provider that enables HbbTV support on devices, noted that while HbbTV applications are particularly associated with the DTT market, they are also being used on satellite. Technically HbbTV can be used on cable set-top boxes, though in practice cable Pay TV operators have been reluctant to let broadcast HbbTV signals into their homes.

On the webcast Hernes demonstrated ways to ensure an acceptable user experience for ad replacement using the 1.5 spec, even if it does not support full frame accuracy. Bearing in mind the need to harness the whole HbbTV device footprint, he suggested the use of broadcaster idents at each end of the ad break while the display device is switching between the broadcast and IP streams.

Hernes also outlined, in some detail, the full capabilities, when it comes to advertising, within the 1.5, 2.0 and 2.0.1 versions of the HbbTV specification, including the arrival of ad pre-caching so the stream switching becomes more seamless. He also explained the very latest work within HbbTV to cement the user experience with truly frame accurate ad replacement.

You can hear these technical discussions, and learn more about the industry debate on whether minimum HbbTV device performance requirements should be introduced, on the webcast playback, which is free. Click here to hear more.

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