The tsunami of data surging into TV introduces a massive amount of complexity and fragmentation into what used to be a simple media buy.
“It’s really complex to buy, and that’s spooking a lot of buyers off,” said Tracey Scheppach, who buys addressable connected TV (CTV) with her agency Matter More Media.
CTV, which is content viewed on a TV and delivered over the internet, is the frontier for this data-driven transformation because it is theoretically (though not often in practice) addressable. Companies are swooping in to use that data to provide new capabilities in targeting, audience marketplaces and measurement.
But only some types of companies within the CTV ecosystem can collect viewing data or identity data about their viewers.
Ironically, those with the least TV inventory (or none at all) have the most data: digital MVPDs, direct-to-consumer apps, smart TVs, ad servers and companies with SDKs installed.
Programmers, who have the bulk of the TV inventory, need to own the distribution channel in order to get consumer data.
Their content frequently lives across combinations of devices and apps, all of which share different amounts of data or require different technical setups. And consumers also watch content across multiple services, making it difficult for one company to understand identity or a viewing footprint.
So although precise data exists, it’s heavily siloed on different platforms, which is why addressability with the scale of linear remains a pipe dream.
The industry is bringing this data together in three ways: through technologies designed to stitch together capabilities like targeting, measurement, frequency management and optimization; through partnerships between distributors and programmers; and through the formation of industry standards.
Solving fragmentation through technology and data
CTV data typically gathers viewing behavior or identity. Tracking what content and ads people see requires automated content recognition technology, an ad server or SDKs that sit in CTV apps.
Identity information usually comes from a device or an app’s logged-in or registered users, or from companies with identity graphs. Vendors can also use IP addresses and device IDs to construct identity.
While there are many point solutions that can measure CTV viewing behavior or connect identities, there isn’t one that can do it all.
Executing on a campaign, from targeting and optimization to measurement, requires the involvement of numerous entities.
For instance, targeting CTV audiences requires the assistance of data onboarders like Experian Marketing Services or LiveRamp which created a connected TV identity graph in March.
Onboarders enable targeting across a fragmented content and device landscape, and demand has picked up over the past year, said LiveRamp GM of TV Allison Metcalfe.
“If [a buy] is a bit clunky, there are partners that allow us to use data across platforms seamlessly,” said Brad Stockton, VP, Video Innovation for Dentsu Aegis’ Amplifi.
While onboarders can facilitate targeting, they don’t offer cohesive audience measurement. Nielsen is the currency for linear TV, but advanced TV measurement has sprouted dozens more companies, from Comscore to analytics companies including 605, Data Plus Math, iSpot.tv, Alphonso and Samba.
“This fragmentation is a critical problem all our clients are trying to solve, and it’s core to Nielsen’s strategy in cross-media,” said Amanda Tarpey, SVP of product leadership at Nielsen.
Nielsen is fighting to keep itself as CTV currency by moving from panels to census-based measurement via tech. Because of its neutrality (and to lure in TV advertisers), many programmers will also add Nielsen pixels and SDKs for measurement.
Many buyers prefer or demand for their CTV impressions to happen on platforms measurably by Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings (DAR). And platforms like Hulu use DAR as currency.
But while Nielsen is making a play to unify measurement and continue to serve as a currency, it can’t yet optimize or control delivery. That’s where ad servers could come in.
One key problem today is that there is no way for a buyer to manage frequency across programmers. If a buyer purchases TV ads through Roku and on a programmer’s app, for example, they risk hitting the same audience twice. But an ad server, such as FreeWheel, sees all of that data.
Its fragmentation problem isn’t technological, but a business one – ad servers aren’t allowed to share that data for buyers to use because of how they structure their agreements.
Resolving fragmentation that programmers face in managing their inventory is also part of the pitch of Google, which recently landed Disney as a client. Because of its near-universal footprint in desktop and mobile, it would be able to manage reach and frequency across all screens for their entire buy with a single programmer.
“We want the publisher to have a single line item that runs across all their inventory,” said Peentoo Patel, video group product manager for Google Ad Manager. Once all of an inventory can be addressable, it will “help move the boulders on transacting.”
Solving fragmentation through partnerships
One of the key tensions in CTV is between programmers and distributors. These tensions manifest especially during carriage negotiations, when channels can go dark. These negotiations aren’t just about the cost of content – they’re also about how much inventory the programmers will give up for the distributors to sell themselves.
The value of data in TV has added a new bargaining chip.
Content owners without direct-to-consumer apps hold no data about their customers and must instead negotiate with digital MVPDs and platforms like Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV to determine what data around device IDs, audience and measurement they can use to improve their ad inventory.
Because distributors want to keep their best data to lure in advertisers, programmers must bargain for or pay to access scraps of data. Every programmer has slightly different access to data, which can be complicated for buyers to navigate.
“Between our various MVPD partners and Roku, Amazon and Sling, we have a variety of different data working agreements in place, and they vary in type,” said John Halley, COO of ad solutions at Viacom.
CTV data is now being negotiated during carriage agreements between cable companies and programmers.
Programmers often ask for ad exposure data from an MVPD, for example, so they can provide a more holistic view of measurement to a client. Understanding who was explored or unexposed to a programmer is a crucial measurement piece to the puzzle. Many programmers also cut deals with Roku to use its data, or will pay on a per-campaign basis.
But having to negotiate for data is risky. Costs can go up. Or a CTV distributor can decide their data isn’t for sale.
There are two ways out.
The first is to be acquired by a content distributor, which is why Comcast-owned NBCUniversal and AT&T-owned WarnerMedia no longer have to worry about access to customer data.
Solving for fragmentation of audience across devices and experiences was a key reason for the WarnerMedia acquisition, said Jesse Redniss, the company’s EVP of data strategy. AT&T’s mobile and DirecTV subscriber base offered access to new insights in how people consume content – and opportunities to measure and target with that in mind.
“The WarnerMedia and AT&T tie-up makes so much sense because their subscriber base helps us understand the complete consumer journey in a privacy-safe manner – not just a linear stream, but engaging with them on CTV or first thing in the morning with a push notification. That’s the heart and soul of it.”
Of course, not everyone can be acquired. The second way programmers can ensure they get audience data is by creating a direct-to-consumer app. WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal both have ad-supported streaming services in the works. CBS All Access was an early mover, and Disney owns and operates Hulu, which includes an ad-supported option. Univision NOW is a DTC offering.
Log-in information from these services strengthens the ability for data onboarders to do identity matching. And they can track all viewing behavior – locking down both behavioral and identity data.
Unfortunately, so many direct-to-consumer offerings create more fragmentation. Consumers won’t enroll in all of them, and it’ll be difficult for any one service to bring the scale advertisers want.
Buyers are already activating with DTC. Companies who have already amassed millions-strong subscriber files – Roku, SlingTV, Xandr and Hulu, for example – are becoming more creative with how they utilize their data, said Amplifi’s Stockton.
“The more registration data you have, the more targeting you have, and the more accurate you can be in the messaging,” Stockton said.
Even with less compelling data than their CTV counterparts, programmers have one trump card. Discerning buyers would rather put messages in front of quality content than a low-quality show with data attached to it.
“You might be getting better data, but you’re not getting your advertising in the premium content,” said Chris Geraci, President and Chief Investment Officer at OMD. The lack of transparency in data-driven TV buys isn’t appealing to him, nor is being on an ad network filled with third-tier apps.
Solving fragmentation through standards
In recent years, consortiums like OpenAP and Project OAR have emerged to unify the industry via common standards – but the progress here is mixed at best.
OpenAP, formed in 2017, saw major programmers banding together to agree on what a data segment looks like. A buyer can then activate using that standard definition across multiple programmers.
“The struggle is real,” said Denise Colella, SVP of advanced ad products and strategy at NBCUniversal, about fragmentation in the advanced TV space. “OpenAP is trying to make it simple for clients to use data across publishers.”
And Project OAR (Open Addressable Ready), announced this year, will see programmers band together to create an addressable TV standard that will allow them to run ads on Vizio smart TVs.
“OAR and OpenAP are the first steps in creating those standards,” Cadent Chief Product Officer Eoin Townsend said. “I’m partial to how the IAB formed, where there is truly a third party building out [standards], with a rotating group of board members.”
But it remains to be seen whether these consortiums will have staying power, or provide enough value to sustain themselves over the long term.
Vizio, for instance, is just one smart TV provider in a highly competitive landscape that includes Samsung, LG and Roku TV. Moreover, not everyone in America owns a smart TV – and not every smart TV owner connects their device to the internet.
As for OpenAP, WarnerMedia dropped out in April, just before the group announced a new automated ad marketplace – one that conflicted with Xandr’s own TV marketplace strategy.
Put away the superglue
Buyers don’t want a situation where the entity that owns the most TV inventory unites the industry. Data fragmentation might be a necessary evil.
“Building another walled garden is the last thing anyone needs,” Geraci said.
The CTV market should not aspire to look like the digital market, Townsend said, where Facebook and Google rule. He wants partnerships and third-party tech to unify the fragmented market – not massive conglomerates.
“TV is going to be solved by independence and integration,” he said. “The TV has an opportunity not to become a kingmaker, but to create a third party as king.”