Home On TV & Video Fixing CTV Ad Repetition Means Understanding How Ad Tech Enables It

Fixing CTV Ad Repetition Means Understanding How Ad Tech Enables It

Greg Smith, Founder and CEO of StreamVantage

CTV is a growth medium with a frequency problem. Ad repetition is one of the most talked-about CTV topics at trade shows. But it still hasn’t been fixed.

Ad frequency is a problem at the campaign level, where CTV viewers can be exposed to the same ad creative across different media channels/streaming platforms well beyond the typical protocol of traditional linear TV. It’s even more annoying when the same ad repeats itself within the same ad pod (commercial break) on the same platform. 

Multiple factors such as buy-side practices, the CTV industry structure and shortcomings in ad tech contribute to the problem. Yet there are several ways to overcome these limitations. 

Campaign-level frequency

Long gone are the days when reach and frequency planning tools were well established and yielded reasonably predictable results for the linear TV ecosystem. 

The CTV ecosystem is more fragmented than linear TV/cable. Inventory is spread across SVOD apps (e.g., Hulu), OEMs (e.g., Samsung), FAST channel publishers (e.g., Cineverse) and independent AVOD publishers. In some cases, the market is further fragmented by inventory splits between distributors and publishers, making frequency management difficult.

The problem of campaign frequency is, by definition, linked to reach. Marketers’ key measurement unit to transact deals is the gross rating point (GRP), which equals the reach (in percentage terms) multiplied by the average frequency against any particular demo, such as households or women aged 25-54.

More inventory sources

In 2023, Advertiser Perceptions conducted a study sponsored by Premion that asked CTV ad buyers how many CTV/OTT inventory providers they purchased for a typical CTV ad campaign. 70% of CTV buyers bought four or fewer inventory sources, with the average response being about five inventory sources.  

At first glance, those figures may seem adequate. But most popular CTV ad inventory sources have fewer than 50 million monthly active users (e.g., Netflix) and often overlap with each other, exacerbating the frequency problem. 

The relatively easy fix is to buy more inventory sources, such as FAST channels, that are less likely to overlap with the current media plan.


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Buy-side and sell-side tech issues

DSPs can manage some frequency issues via frequency caps. Unlike other digital media, however, CTV is not substantially traded across programmatic open auction marketplaces. 

Most CTV publishers refrain from enabling any open auction inventory or significantly hold back most inventory with the hopes of selling its best programs via programmatic guaranteed upfronts or private marketplace deals. This can create walled gardens between different apps and streaming platforms, which leads to frequency management issues. 

To prevent this, marketers are encouraged to enforce frequency caps at the DSP and at the ad server.

Buy-side ad servers (e.g., Innovid) can manage creative rotations of purchased ad slots so that no particular ad unit is overused. Meanwhile, on the sell side, ad servers such as FreeWheel, SpringServe and Publica can restrict frequency based on the marketer’s requirements.

Pod-level frequency

CTV has become notorious for repeated ads within the same ad break, which are a true lose-lose-lose for viewer, brand and publisher. This repetition is still happening in FAST and AVOD.  

The ideal frequency of an ad in any pod is one. (That is, unless the advertiser specifically has designed a creative strategy to have, for example, bookend ads at the beginning and end of a pod that relate to each other.)

Pod-level repetition primarily occurs for two reasons: First, streaming platforms occasionally may not have enough reach to fill a time-sensitive campaign, so they stuff ads into selected pods by relaxing frequency caps in their ad server.  

Second, competing third parties with access to inventory in the same pod win consecutive auctions for the same advertiser with the same creative execution.

Creative ad IDs

In the linear TV world, repeated ads have been systematically flagged in traffic log files for years. Because such repetition is seen as waste, these placements are typically credited or “made good” with another ad. This practice dates as far back as the Donovan Data System, the entrenched TV media buying system that eventually became part of Mediaocean.

In CTV, there haven’t been established industry standards to remedy the detection of repeated ads.

Now, the IAB Tech Lab’s recent Creative Ad ID Framework is defining the way registered creative IDs (which are common in linear TV) “travel” with the ad creative through the supply chain, from advertisers and publishers to DSPs and SSPs. 

With more widespread adoption of creative IDs and subsequent standards to ensure that no creative ID can be repeated in a pod, CTV’s dreaded pod-level repetition will go away. The Creative Ad ID will also help address other industry issues, such as competitive separation and brand safety.  

If marketers commit to buying more inventory sources, enforcing frequency caps across both buy-side and sell-side ad tech platforms and adopting the IAB Tech Lab’s new Creative Ad ID Framework, it will remove one of the biggest obstacles impeding the industry’s fastest-growing media channel.

That way, the issue of ad frequency will eventually be discussed at trade shows, well … less frequently.

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

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For more articles featuring Greg Smith, click here.

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