Pity the OTT ad buyer, who must manage reach and frequency goals while finding inventory across a fragmented TV landscape.
Often, the same inventory is available from multiple sellers – from networks like NBC, Fox and ABC to the actual OTT platforms, like Roku, Samsung or Amazon.
And networks and platforms offer different strengths and weaknesses.
Most OTT inventory is purchased through networks as an IO, said Philip Inghelbrecht, founder and CEO of Tatari. Legacy relationships still flourish at the networks, and while targeting is a challenge, they can provide more control over measurement.
On the other hand, OTT platforms offer better data and targeting, but measurement is usually walled off, and inventory sold as a managed service.
Where an ad buyer purchases their OTT inventory depends on their business objectives. National advertisers may want to leverage relationships with networks, whereas buyers looking for efficiencies and extended reach may value better data and targeting from the operating systems.
Another option is buying through a combination of both, but doing so creates frequency issues without the right media plan, since both avenues often have the same inventory. An ad buyer might purchase an audience through a platform and a show through a network for reach, and end up inundating the viewer with the same ad.
“You have to decide where you’re willing to risk overlap,” said Manny Hernandez, VP, head of display activation in North America at Essence.
Carriage rights make it very difficult to know who’s selling what, complicating reach and frequency management – especially when buying across both the networks and the OTT platforms.
Cable TV operators can only sell two minutes of commercial time per hour of programming while the networks get 18 minutes. OTT platforms get an even smaller slice, at the expense of the cable operators; they can only sell an undisclosed percentage of the network’s inventory within those two minutes.
And when buyers purchase OTT inventory via the platforms, they don’t know what content they ran against, because the platforms aggregate measurement.
Networks sell the first cut of their inventory across all distribution platforms, so many buyers prefer to work with them first.
“Discovery sells Discovery everywhere, as opposed to Roku selling a small percentage,” said Jesse Math, VP of media and OTT lead at digital agency ForwardPMX. “My choice as a buyer is to do a deal with Discovery where I can overlay whatever data I want. That could also run on a Roku.”
With more OTT offerings hitting the market from Disney, NBC and WarnerMedia, fragmentation is only getting worse. But lack of measurement is a bigger concern on OTT, and for many marketers, inability to measure is reason enough not to buy through OTT platforms at all.
“Our client base will buy TV all day long, as long as they can measure it,” Inghelbrecht said. “I can buy the same audience through a different path very easily.”
There are multiple OTT software providers, but only a few with an active ad offering. Here’s a list of the major ones.
Buyers frequently list Roku as one of their go-to OTT partners, since they can purchase audiences across Roku’s apps and tie exposures back to its 29.1 million logged-in households.
Roku’s programmatic offering can be accessed through most DSPs, and since March, Adobe Advertising Cloud users can upload CRM data to target Roku viewers.
Roku uses ACR to help buyers manage frequency and reach light linear TV viewers. Its operating system is integrated on more than 10 million TVs from OEMs like TCL, Sharp and Hisense.
“Roku’s core offering is their first-party viewership data,” said Math. “You could use it to reach households with kids in co-viewing environments, [who watch] 'Frozen' in the morning and Bravo at night.”
Roku’s inventory, however, is not unique. The platform has rev-share deals with publishers and overlays its first-party data on their inventory. Roku’s ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) network, The Roku Channel, aggregates free content to open more inventory for Roku to sell. The platform also sells banners and videos on its home screen and buttons on its remotes.
And its measurement is also limited, since it aggregates reporting and limits attribution within its walls.
“They are building themselves up to be the OTT walled garden,” Hernandez said
Amazon Fire can uniquely target audiences against Amazon shoppers and close the loop on sales, which is especially enticing to Amazon retailers.
“The interesting thing about Amazon is their data,” Hernandez said. “That’s why anyone would want to use them.”
Like Roku, Amazon has rev-share deals with publishers and sells a portion of their inventory, overlaying its first-party data. It also sells banners and sponsored tiles on its home screen. And it offers more inventory though its AVOD channel, Amazon Free Dive.
Amazon’s offering is sold as a managed service. Reporting is aggregated, and buyers can’t do cross-platform measurement. Buyers decide on a client-by-client basis when Amazon’s first-party data is valuable enough to play within its ecosystem.
“Amazon has full measurement, if what’s important to you is selling on Amazon,” Math said.
Samsung Ads' offering is very similar to Roku’s. An ad sales unit of the TV manufacturer, Samsung Ads sells inventory from its own AVOD channel, Samsung TV Plus, and through rev-share deals with publishers. In both instances, it overlays first-party viewership data.
Samsung Ads also sells mobile and display ads, as well as native banner and pre-roll ads on the smart TV home screen. Its sales are a managed service, and reporting is limited within its walls.
“They have a tight ecosystem where you can do end-to-end buying and measurement,” Hernandez said. “If we want to do that across devices, we have to piece together alternative options. That’s where the buying challenge comes in.”
Samsung also uses ACR data collected from its 35 million smart TVs to measure OTT against linear viewing. Buyers can target consumers who didn't see an ad on linear or OTT across desktop and mobile. But Samsung's dynamic ad insertion provider, Sorenson Media, filed for bankruptcy in October 2018 and was snapped up by Nielsen in February.
All the other players
The OTT landscape is still in flux and filled with formidable up-and-comers.
Apple TV doesn’t have a programmatic offering, but sells brand integrations. And Google is installing Android TV across TV manufacturers like Hisense, RCA, Sharp and Sony. With Apple’s forthcoming streaming network and YouTube viewing rising on connected TVs, both could come up with a very compelling offer for buyers – especially Google.
“Google wants to make Android TV the operating system across TV sets,” said Inghelbrecht. “When that happens, they’re going to control part of the inventory, with their data and the Google sales force behind it.”
Buyers are also exploring consoles like Xbox One and PlayStation Vue to reach younger audiences, said Brad Stockton, VP of video innovation at Dentsu Aegis Network.
Correction: This article previously said Samsung worked with Sorenson Media to collect ACR data. Samsung collects ACR data from its 35 million smart TVs.