A Checklist for Publishers Considering Programmatic OTT

This article is sponsored by Xandr.

Nearly one-third of TV and streaming viewership now takes place through OTT platforms – an increase of 23% over last year according to Xandr’s 2020 Relevance Report and eMarketer. But capitalizing on this shift is about more than simply expanding OTT ad inventory.

Publishers who wish to maximize OTT’s potential must create an offering that looks past near-term ad revenue optimization to actually improve the viewer experience. To do this, however, they’ll need to balance the control of direct sales with the liquidity and yield of programmatic deals.

While it can be tempting to pick a programmatic platform that promises the biggest return now, taking a longer-term view can help future-proof revenue as viewing habits and buyer priorities continue to evolve.

For forward-thinking publishers, the right programmatic OTT partnership ideally has three attributes: a viewer-centric strategy, the resources to survive the transition as TV and digital converge, and a desire to innovate alongside publishers as the industry changes. Together, these traits deliver the tools and insights publishers need to optimize monetization in the long run.

  1. Focuses on the Viewer 

The rapid proliferation of content platforms means publishers need every advantage they can get to maximize the lifetime value of their viewers.

Unfortunately, as supply grows, viewers are enduring repeat ads, empty ad slots and latency – all of which detract from the user experience and invite viewers to consider other platforms.

Smart technology can address these issues and improve the user experience in a variety of ways.

Frequency capping across both direct sold and programmatic, for example, helps to prevent viewer fatigue. Publishers should be wary of partners that can only optimize within their own programmatic silos, as repeat ads can still occur from other demand sources. Using a single provider to aggregate all programmatic demand will help guarantee a good experience for the duration of the commercial break.

Publishers should also look for partners who can serve lightning-fast video ads. Fetching the entire ad pod in advance ensures viewers don’t experience a delay between back-to-back ads. “Unwrapping” creatives before sending them to the client reduces or eliminates time-consuming redirects before the final ad can be served.

It’s important to understand that certain user experience improvements may temporarily affect monetization. A publisher who has been serving repeat ads as part of a high-spending deal might hesitate to add other advertisers to the mix just for the sake of variety. But advertisers expect programmatic OTT to adhere to the same requirements as TV, including frequency management, as well as competitive separation and brand safety guidelines. Focusing on a viewer-centric experience is the right move to win viewers and advertisers as this experience becomes the standard.

  1. Anticipates Future Partnership Needs

Choosing a primary programmatic partner for OTT is a big investment, and an onerous task that most publishers will be hesitant to repeat every few years.

Before making a decision, it’s critical for publishers to imagine the ways they might aspire to work with their programmatic partner in a few years’ time – and whether those platforms are investing in technology and talent to support those goals.

To support the growing shift to streaming TV, many new OTT-focused programmatic platforms have started to emerge. But as TV and digital buying converge, advertisers will look to buy at scale across different platforms. Publishers need to choose sustainable partners. This includes assessing whether they have capital to survive economic downturns and the necessary expertise to navigate both TV and digital.

  1. Prioritizes Innovation

Innovations that first took root in display advertising are now being developed for OTT. For example, header bidding emerged as a powerful way for programmatic partners to see and bid on all inventory simultaneously. While there’s no “page header” in a video player, the principle holds true: OTT publishers stand to earn more with header bidding.

But as publishers compete to win their share of the OTT market, many are finding themselves stuck with legacy partners who seem more interested in maintaining the status quo than supporting innovations such as header bidding and Prebid – the most popular, open-source header bidding wrapper. Some publishers are even being told their current OTT partners won’t support Prebid-based solutions.

Savvy publishers who hear this from entrenched, established players can start receiving the benefits of header bidding by selecting partners that value innovation, are focused on solving for immediate interoperability, and have their sights set on the future of OTT.

Programmatic OTT technology is evolving quickly as demand ramps up and more standards emerge to help advertisers determine the ROI of their investments. To protect revenue long term, TV programmers and distributors need to put viewers first, align with buyer needs and choose technology partners with both staying power and a desire to disrupt the status quo.

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