With A Nudge From Brands, Streaming Interoperability Is A Possibility

Andre Swanston Tru Optik

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

Today's column is by Andre Swanston, CEO and Co-Founder of Tru Optik, a TransUnion company.

We’re in a golden era of streaming. More US broadband households now subscribe to over-the-top (OTT) than a pay-TV service. Digitization has shepherded in rich insights for household-level targeting. And many TV companies and device manufacturers are taking note, working diligently to protect the data in their backyards – which can leave advertisers in a tough spot.

It’s only when advertisers can understand identity comprehensively – across all the identifiers used in the TV industry, from broadcasters to platforms – that interoperability can start to take shape. That requires a foundation, such as an agnostic identity graph, to translate identity signals (e.g., advertiser customer data, offline registrations from cable and satellite subscriptions, connected TV IDs, household signatures, personal device signals) across the ecosystem.

Hitting a wall

Sensing the industry tilt toward streaming, broadcasters like NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and Fox have acquired or launched streaming services to build advertising businesses – competing with first-movers like Roku and Amazon Fire TV. These platforms have secured impressive subscriber databases, though advertisers face challenges when data sits within closed ecosystems.

OTT now scales to more than 200 million US viewers, according to eMarketer, representing a massive opportunity for advertisers despite walled-garden challenges. While Facebook and YouTube may come closest to near census-level views, other platforms don’t have subscriber bases representing the majority of viewers. Device manufacturers have the added challenge of being one of many systems used for streamed content – digital media players, smart TVs, gaming systems and more.

Fragmentation is extending past digital video into new streaming environments like audio, gaming, social and more. Virtually no content provider, device manufacturer or media company is prepared for this level of interoperability.

It is advertisers who must be the ones to push standardization and collaboration if we want to see streaming grow in meaningful ways.

Split advertising decisions

Even as walled gardens and device-level views subdivide streaming, for advertisers, the system as it currently stands is too difficult to manage tens of platforms and tech providers to cobble together campaigns. The way things are now ultimately snuffs out opportunities for holistic targeting and cohesive measurement in the process.

In a world of walled gardens, advertisers will more likely maintain relationships with a handful of media companies – two to three rather than 20 to 30. It will be those media companies enabling enough interoperability who’ll win incremental campaign dollars.

While interoperability is beneficial for cohesive targeting and measurement, it likely won’t be enough for advertisers. I expect buyers to call for more connectivity. When advertisers can plug-and-play one understanding of identity across multiple activation points, media companies can truly facilitate scale, an accurate view and speed. 

To target the same audiences, control frequency and measure ROI, brands need individual and household-level resolution to reach across platforms. Without this understanding, brands are forced to reconcile disparate definitions of insights and metrics from each activation point, deciphering between household insights, device-based metrics and panel-based or aggregated audience reporting. 

Coming together

To compete in a partitioned ecosystem, TV providers will have to learn strategic ways to play nice.

First, the merger and acquisition party won’t slow down. OTT subscriber data was the connecting thread of many acquisitions – Xumo, Crackle, Pluto and Tubi – but business plays in the coming years will reinforce TV providers as central hubs for advertising use cases. See Roku’s acquisition of Nielsen’s Advanced Video Advertising unit as an example.

Tech providers will likely achieve connectivity through cross-platform partnerships and consortiums. OpenAP recently launched OpenID to create a single identity framework for linear TV audiences. The Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0 courted its first connected TV company, FuboTV, in February.

The connection of people to devices and other identity keys, data sets and inventory is what enabled the digital ecosystem to operate at the speed that enables real-time use cases like retargeting. That level of flexibility and automation in TV would increase advertiser adoption – an opportunity in the tide to lift all boats.

We’re approaching a watershed moment for streaming. As a starting point, resolution across publishers, devices, identity providers and advertisers will provide the infrastructure for collaboration, flexibility and speed. Even so, it will take everyone to work together for advertisers to truly benefit from the promise of connectivity.

Follow Tru Optik (@TruOptik) and AdExchanger (@AdExchanger) on Twitter.

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