What’s Holding Back Live CTV Advertising?

Paige Bilins, VP of video product management, Magnite

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

Today's column is by Paige Bilins, VP of video product management at Magnite.

Viewers have shifted a lot of their TV viewing to CTV for the convenience of an on-demand experience. Advertisers’ dollars have inevitably followed. But there’s still one format that  they’ve struggled to crack: live CTV.

In a live environment, the stakes are high. There’s pressure to smoothly execute campaigns for unpredictable audiences across various distribution points. Plus, traditional programmatic tools weren’t made for TV environments. Publishers understandably have concerns.

Still, live TV inventory is highly valued. As a result, media owners have sold it exclusively through direct channels, only allowing ads from approved advertisers to run. While this addresses some concerns, it effectively caps the revenue that publishers can make and limits opportunities for advertisers. 

In a digitally enabled live CTV environment, publishers and advertisers have more options. Here’s what it’ll take for live CTV advertising to be ready for prime time.

Uninterrupted, positive user experience 

Live CTV viewers expect a television experience. They don’t want to stare at a “Your content will resume shortly” screen while watching a sports game. But unlike with video-on-demand (VOD) content, ad breaks in live programming can’t be collapsed to fit levels of demand. 

In the case of live sporting events, the length of a commercial break can depend on how long it takes to sort out an injury. Or there could be additional ad breaks due to overtime. Remember game three of the 2018 World Series, which lasted 18 innings

Publishers need access to a large and diverse mix of ads across categories to take advantage of these additional breaks. With a large pool to pull from, programmatic demand can be used alongside direct demand to ensure maximization of ad breaks.

Smoother flow for concurrent inventory  

Aside from content itself being variable, live viewership can also be hard to predict. Think back to the India versus Pakistan game during the 2021 Cricket World Cup, which – at 167 million viewers – became the most viewed match in the history of the tournament. 

This unexpected surge of traffic could lead to significant timeout rates that ripple across the ecosystem, impacting DSPs and demand partners as well. 

The technologies involved in distributing and monetizing live events should be built to handle the complexities of this type of traffic. Content owners and distributors need to be able to control the flow of live audiences in a way that resembles VOD to distribute viewership spikes. 

Dampening the number of concurrent streams would also drastically reduce the number of times systems time out, enabling more monetization of inventory. 

Real-time troubleshooting 

With live television, there is a brief opportunity to capture the audience. And there’s no way to make any changes because most performance reporting is hours or even days behind. 

With CTV and OTT, performance reporting should be available within moments of an ad airing to allow for optimization or troubleshooting before the audience is gone.

Live TV’s big moment

Next year, based on estimated viewership, 36% of Americans will watch live content either via a free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) or a vMVPD, as per eMarketer.

With millions of households tuning into live TV through CTVs, advertisers need to overcome the constraints that are holding them back.

Follow Magnite (@Magnite) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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