The Truth About CTV And Mitigating Fraud

"On TV & Video" is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video. 

Today's column is by Ken Harlan, founder and CEO, MobileFuse.

CTV is taking center stage as the digital media industry’s next frontier. But there’s still quite a bit of in-market confusion around best buying practices, realities of fraud and what’s actually achievable.

With 60% of US advertisers shifting ad dollars from linear TV to either connected TV (CTV) or over the top (OTT) during 2021, it’s critical the industry lands on a unified set of solutions, fraud protections and measurement capabilities. 

In lieu of having these needs met in the near term, what can brands and marketers do to ensure their CTV efforts are well-developed and deliver a strong return on investment? Here’s a look at where we are today and how the industry can optimize CTV efforts for maximum return.

Lay of the land

As it stands now, there are three different CTV inventory sources marketers have access to:  broadcasters (Hulu, HBO, etc.), CTV-enablement devices (Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick) and Smart TV devices (Samsung TVs, LG TVs, etc.). Each of these sources provide different inventory and measurement capabilities. 

Each inventory source allows for different insights. For example, some providers can run pixels in their environments, while others claim they can’t – and that's evolving every day. Asking this question is critical, as pixels are often required for measurement. The continuing volatility among rapidly changing solutions presents ongoing challenges for marketers. 

Marketers are also plagued with the age-old issue of silos when using the largest players. Most inventory sources behave like walled gardens, forcing brands and advertisers to work directly with them and not allowing data to leave their respective platforms.

While the big ad-supported inventory providers deliver a strong reach, the inability to use their platform data across a broader campaign introduces ambiguity in the platform’s actual ROI. Those walls also make it difficult to perform necessary tests for creative and messaging optimizations. It’s also worth calling out that the price points associated with large players can be exorbitant. 

Marketers who focus their CTV efforts on long-tail apps like Pluto TV, Crackle and Xumo TV can find immense value. While these apps have a relatively smaller viewership footprint, they provide a nuanced set of insights helping marketers better engage specific audiences. 

For example, a CPG brand marketer buying inventory from Kidoodle, a family-focused and child-friendly streaming video platform, can reach parents around holiday-themed offerings. Or, for holidays like Halloween, brand marketers could incorporate inventory from Midnight Pulp, one of the country's largest distributors of American horror films and TV shows, to engage relevant audiences. These long-tail inventory providers actually offer more valuable, actionable data that can be baked into broader campaigns. 

 Taking a holistic approach

Because CTV inventory is issued at the household level, it’s most effective for the channel to be a component of a larger marketing initiative. It’s difficult to know exactly who is watching at a given time despite being able to tailor efforts contextually based on the type of people who like to watch different genres of content. Put simply, the desired one-to-one consumer interactions are not as prevalent with CTV as they are with mobile devices.  

By using CTV in conjunction with other strategies like mobile and digital out of home, marketers have access to yet another consumer touch point. To do this effectively, marketers need to accept contextual targeting with open arms, a lesson they first uncovered at the onset of the iOS 14 and “death of the cookie” discussions.

CTV’s household-level insights can be combined with other contextual data like time of day, app, video content, location of the video playing, weather and more. By weaving these pieces of information together, digital marketers can have a stronger understanding of who the audience is and when they’re most receptive to advertising. 

Fighting fraud with friends

Marketers often ask about viewability metrics when they start to buy CTV. However, most companies tout their CTV inventory is 100% viewable because it's not skippable – unless the viewer turns off their device or leaves the platform. Complete viewability sounds promising on the surface, but actually poses major questions from a fraud perspective. For example, nefarious players could implement server farms and create bots that simulate someone watching a CTV ad.

 Interestingly, DoubleVerify found that between January and April 2020 there was a 161% year-over-year increase in fraudulent CTV ad impressions. It's obvious the industry needs a solution to ensure ad dollars are spent on reaching real consumers. 

 The best method to minimize fraud is to set requirements for inventory partners. Marketers should use accredited third-party verification partners and work with inventory that allows pixels for tracking. A third-party test and review of inventory sources is a step in the right direction to minimize fraud and build greater confidence in CTV ROI.

 As the CTV channel develops, it’s critical digital marketers double down on holistic campaign approaches and ensure their inventory partners meet measurement, viewability and fraud-free requirements. 

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