Why Fragmented Identity Is The Root Of All Problems In CTV

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

Today's column is by David Levy, CEO at OpenAP.

The pandemic boom in streaming TV drove a massive investment in programming. US production companies produced 537 shows last year, up from just 381 the year before – despite the production restrictions caused by COVID lockdowns.

But such growth in TV advertising is also forcing media buyers to rediscover their approach to the medium. The post-Upfronts conversation has focused on the growth of digital, where major publishers, including NBCU, expect half of spend to land as soon as the end of 2022. 

The upshot is that advertisers are scrambling to determine how to track users across platforms and serve them the most relevant messages possible, all at a time when digital platforms and walled gardens are luring dollars away and privacy changes on the open web are making audience profiling more difficult.

Let’s explore how the TV advertising industry can compete with increasing digital ad spend and make the most of the channel’s proliferating platforms.

More platforms, more problems?

The growth of viewership on connected TVs and other devices offers advertisers the opportunity to harness granular targeting and measurement on advertising’s farthest-reaching channel. TV is known for delivering engagement for brand marketers, unlike the vanity metrics of a passing scroll on digital channels. 

But cross-platform comes with major challenges. TV advertisers have struggled to achieve a holistic, person-level view of audiences across screens. Fragmented viewership, coupled with siloed identity solutions, has created blind spots. These counting problems lead to redundant messages and poor frequency management. 

In addition, differing standards across publishers and identity providers strip advertisers of the attribution power required to justify the targeting ad tech makes possible. 

TV’s fragmented, closed digital ecosystems make the beckoning call of platforms like Google and Facebook louder, threatening to suck more dollars out of the TV ecosystem altogether.

Cross-platform opportunities

That said, the proliferation of channels that makes TV advertising challenging is also the source of vibrant opportunity.

TV is transforming from a broad, spray-and-pray medium into a network of granular platforms and media ecosystems. Advertisers can home in on audience segments determined not just by age and gender but also interest and other person-based identifiers.

But creating an audience target for linear that can’t be used in digital or addressable TV isn’t useful.

When creating an omnichannel audience for TV, marketers need to ask three key questions:

  1. Can my audience be matched to a single ID that spans all consumers? 
  2. Can my audience IDs be matched to viewership data to create consistent audience segments for targeting across linear, digital and addressable? 
  3. Can my audience segments be sent consistently to all TV publishers to execute? 

TV is less likely to end up locked into one form of user ID. Browser and mobile app targeting is susceptible to the whims of gatekeepers such as Google and Apple.

But in TV, some forms of addressable TV advertising use set-top box data, while targeting via linear TV employs third-party panel data as well as purchasing data from retailers. 

Plus, some CTV apps benefit from first-party data from logged-in users (like Hulu), while many streaming companies that have made their ad inventory available programmatically employ proprietary identifiers or even contextual signals. 

That mosaic of channels and data sources provides TV advertisers a rich inventory of media across which to reach desired audiences without relying too much on any one source of information. 

It also empowers advertisers to test how creative messages resonate with consumers on different platforms.

Building and measuring audiences

Going forward, we need to ensure linear reach and frequency projections are mapped to an ID spine and that the ID spine is interoperable with other ID spines that are used to build audiences. 

For advanced TV strategies where IDs are already in place, buyers need solutions that provide cross-channel benchmarks and unify the data sets available into holistic, cross-platform audience profiles.

If TV can hit the targets lined out here, our industry will meet its potential by melding its unparalleled reach to the granularity of digital. 

Then, instead of flatlining, TV ad spend may grow as a whole, capitalizing on the enthusiasm we are seeing for OTT.

Follow OpenAP (OpenAPTV) and AdExchanger (@AdExchanger) on Twitter.

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