Anyone who’s streamed content has firsthand experience of what happens when ad podding technology misfires.
Ad podding is supposed to eliminate redundancy and conflict, but whereas linear has rules and controls in place to avoid duplication, enable competitive separation, minimize latency and manage frequency capping, CTV commercial breaks are rife with all four – plus blank screens and “We’ll be right back” placeholder ads when ad servers can’t handle the programmatic load.
Technology exists to deal with these problems – so why is the CTV ad break still broken?
Ad break breakdown
Pod management mishaps come from growing pains in the shift to programmatic buying and selling, said Frank Sinton, president and founder of video SSP Beachfront Media.
Each online video has one piece of pre-roll, so it’s one-to-one matching, Stinton said. “But with CTV, you have a continuous stream of content and no clear understanding of all the slots in a pod.”
When it’s time for a streaming ad break, multiple SSPs auction each individual slot and DSPs bid blindly, unaccustomed to applying competitive separation and frequency capping rules. The same advertiser often bids multiple times on the same pod, which cuts down on advertiser diversity during a break.
In a perfect world, all demand would live in the ad server where the campaigns are hosted, said Aaron Letscher, VP of partnerships and programmatic operations for ad sales at WarnerMedia.
But most OTT services accept programmatic demand from the same customers that are also cutting deals with their direct sales teams. And the sell side doesn’t always get all the signals it needs from its demand partners to properly categorize programmatic ads alongside its own direct demand.
“Take CNN – there are probably 60 different endpoints where a viewer can watch CNN content, from Roku to YouTube to Hulu and through our O&O app,” Letscher said. “It’s a fragmentation issue; distribution partners usually don’t share data.”
Many DSPs, for example, don’t pass metadata in their bids, such as the advertiser’s domain, which makes it difficult to identify who the advertiser is and could lead to repetition issues or a competitive clash.
Some tech solutions, such as the CTV monetization platform Publica, let publishers automatically reject bids that don’t include an advertiser domain.
“You might lose some demand in the short term,” said Ben Antier, chief product officer and co-founder of Publica. “But, over time, bidders will understand that they have to provide ‘A’ domains as the market moves more toward transparency.”
Beachfront on the other hand uses an ad creative database to avoid trafficking the same ad multiple times. “We sometimes see the same creative across 15 different ad sources,” Sinton said. “But if we get a Toyota ad through multiple DSPs, we can match it.”
But what would really help, said Geoff Wolinetz, head of sell-side revenue at Comcast-owned FreeWheel, is widespread adoption of the Universal Ad-ID.
Say FreeWheel was able to know that Ad 123456 is for Dodge and Ad 123457 is for Ford and that Ad 123456 already ran in a pod. Armed with that knowledge, Wolinetz said, the ad server would immediately know to not also run Ad 123457.
And there is precedent. Traditional linear has had Industry Standard Coding Identification as a uniform way to identify commercials since 1970. (The Ad-ID replaced ISCI as the official industry standard for coding TV commercials in 2003.)
“I don’t see why OTT should be any different,” Wolinetz said. “We just need this idea to permeate through the industry and get buy-in.”
But there are mechanisms emerging to tame the ad pod.
On Tuesday, PubMatic released an OTT header bidding solution, powered by Prebid, that aims to help buyers and sellers optimize for monetization and viewer experience across the ad pod. In early May, Beachfront released technology that lets publishers auction off all of the ads in a pod at once while pricing each spot separately, rather than making requests for each slot.
Hulu deals with competitive separation and frequency issues by running private auctions within its direct-sold advertising channels, said Adam Moser, VP and head of ad tech and platform operations at Hulu.
“Our proprietary tech stack understands each brand running through the platform and how many times it was served, so we can control for the most optimal setting within our inventory.”
FreeWheel is integrating device graphs so it doesn’t bombard people with the same message across devices, and it also recently launched a unified direct-sold and programmatic product with NBCU and The Trade Desk. Last year Xandr Monetize introduced the ability for publishers to sell OTT inventory programmatically via header bidding.
CTV ad ops and ad sales folks realize that a lack of efficiency here is a lost revenue opportunity, said WarnerMedia’s Letscher. Now it’s just a matter of making it easier to transact programmatically.
“It’s definitely something we’re thinking about and something everyone knows needs to be fixed,” Letscher said. “There’s revenue being left on the table.”