During the first half of 2020, amidst a backdrop of change, uncertainty, and worry, consumers spent more time watching connected TV (CTV) in the quest for escapism and entertainment. As we head into winter, there is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to fuel disruption to our daily lives that will, once again, have a knock-on impact on TV viewing habits. In view of this, getting CTV right needs to be a priority for brands, content producers, and technology companies.
Bringing audience addressability to TV advertising
CTV as an advertising channel has been on marketers’ radars for a while, however, at the beginning of the year we were very much still in the ‘early adopter’ stage of development. Changes in consumer behaviour, triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, have catapulted CTV forward at the rate you would expect to see over years, not weeks. From a data perspective, the surge in viewership has produced fascinating insights that have led to new ways of working across every aspect of the advertising industry.
When TV content is consumed via a connected device, e.g. streaming media player/device, Smart TV, and games consoles, brands have an opportunity to target specific audiences in a way that has, until now, not been possible to do in a TV environment. In a nutshell, TV has become addressable.
TV content producers to the rescue
In the face of economic uncertainty and huge sweeping changes in consumer behaviour, brands face tough decisions when it comes to advertising strategy. Invest too much and you may put ROI at risk, invest too little and you risk declining revenue. Invest in the wrong channels and you waste budget, target the wrong audience and you miss out on new customers and lose existing customers.
TV content producers were quick to adapt to solve brands’ investment dilemmas by creating flexible, agile, customisable advertising solutions for them. This close collaboration and business flexibility has delivered two-fold: advertisers have been able to reach new CTV audiences, and TV content producers have been able to monetise their inventory and glean valuable insights at an almost unprecedented rate.
Now that CTV advertising is shifting towards becoming normal, we need to make sure that we continue to build on the great foundations that have been laid. To do this we will need experts to lead from the front, simple technology, and unified measurement.
For media buyers, there are a number of challenges that could be addressed in order to realise the full potential of CTV. First off, who is going to be responsible for buying? The beauty of CTV – targeted storytelling on the biggest screen in the house – is also often the first stumbling block. TV buyers are skilled in understanding linear TV audiences, usually working with Nielsen ratings and BARB data, and measuring performance against brand metrics. Digital video ad buyers are skilled in identifying precise audiences, across multiple channels, working with data from multiple sources, and measuring (predominantly) direct response metrics. The problem with CTV is that it sits between the two.
In essence, this isn’t a new problem – any emerging channel isn’t going to be the same as existing channels. The issue comes when we try to retrofit a new form of media into something that we already have. Ad-funded CTV providers and technologies need to step up to the plate and educate media buyers to expert level, and help define ownership and make CTV advertising easy to buy.
As an industry, we have an opportunity to do this in a smoother way than we have with earlier channels and create a high quality, brand safe, data privacy compliant environment from the beginning. What we must not do is create over-sized teams in an effort to appear ‘big’ in CTV, or create new teams without identifying a clear need to do so.
The view from the sofa
Ultimately, the user experience must come first and to get that right we need unification of supply. In the eyes of the consumer, it’s a TV experience, regardless of the way in which the content is accessed and what happens in the background. We may achieve this when advertisers have the ability to see bid opportunities and performance across all forms of TV.
For example, currently, many programmatic solutions do not have the capability to apply a programmatic strategy across several impressions, much less a multi-hour viewing session. For the consumer, this means the potential for over-exposure to a single ad, and/or lack of variety. A simple solution is an algorithm that can take into account the reality of competitive separation and frequency capping, and then select a diverse set of creatives from a variety of brands and categories for each video stream.
When developing new programmatic capabilities for CTV we need to focus on creating solutions that can cope with the nuances – ad pods with multiple ad slots and vast numbers of bid requests per opportunity – but keep these solutions as simple as possible. If we over-complicate the technology we run the risk of stalling the flow of ad spend through CTV and delaying the potential of CTV, not to mention having to reverse-engineer these complex solutions to attract ad spend back to CTV.
Getting measurement right
The current challenge is that addressability breaks the Nielsen rating and BARB data. While that’s not a problem for digital buyers, it is for linear buyers, who need to understand what to do without Nielsen, and how to convert GRPs.
In the rush to find a common currency for CTV the temptation to adopt the lowest common denominator needs to be avoided. The last thing we need is a crude proxy for performance, otherwise CTV advertising may face the same challenges as early display campaigns that were measured by CTR.
Furthermore, in order to understand the true benefit of TV advertising as a whole, i.e. linear plus CTV, we must not try to retrofit measurement strategies from other digital channels. A common TV currency will enable advertisers to execute campaigns seamlessly across linear and CTV, which is what is required to maximise performance and user experience. What is needed is careful audience measurement analysis and the ability to measure the incremental lift CTV brings and to avoid hyper-targeting in CTV just for the sake of it – just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be.
While there is a clear need for a quick solution to accurate measurement, CTV buyers should not shy away from more complex, time consuming performance measurement such as emotional impact power and brand building. Failure to create a full picture of performance across both brand and direct performance metrics will result in CTV being pigeonholed as one or the other. The beauty of CTV as a channel is that it is the exact opposite of being ‘one or other other’.
2021 and beyond
Getting CTV right is important for the industry. At the same time, we will all continue to evolve through new ways of living and working, and consuming media. There’s still a lot of uncertainty. More than ever, businesses need to adopt a flexible approach to everything, from how content is produced, how opportunities are identified and presented to advertisers and how we deliver to end consumers. Businesses that can bring such insights and flexibility are the ones that may see long-term success, as they will be able to match consumer behavioural shifts to advertiser needs, backed up with data.