The living room big screen: How marketers reach audiences with connected TV

by Eric Hoffert, SVP video technology, AppNexus

By the end of this year, 58% of the US population will own a connected TV (CTV) device, according to eMarketer. This market adoption represents a significant opportunity for marketers: they can target digital audiences at scale with customized messaging on the big screen in the living room. The precision of digital finally meets the impact of high-definition creatives for the most coveted audiences.

The sheer scale of the CTV industry is staggering, presenting an opportunity in itself. Netflix surpassed 100 million subscribers in 2017 and an eMarketer study finds that Amazon’s connected television audience will outpace Netflix’s growth this year. And it isn’t just subscription services that are experiencing massive growth. Hulu now has a live TV offering along with their well known on-demand service, and SlingTV continues to add users, estimated to be above two million subscribers. Despite their relative infancy, ad supported OTT services like these already have sufficient scale to ensure campaigns can deliver on their budget targets.

But in order for programmatic to break into the CTV ecosystem, industry players must work together to reach consensus on a critical and underreported issue: the need for a universal identifier for advertising (IFA) that enables targeting of CTV audiences. Without a common IFA, the majority of the $72-billion television ad industry may continue to do business like it always has: manually, with the buying and selling of premium television ad inventory conducted up front and in bulk – without any of the personalization and accuracy of programmatic.

Some connected devices today already offer the ability to tailor TV ads using IFAs. Roku’s Audience Access enables advertisers to target audiences using Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings system, and guarantees they only have to spend money on audiences that reflect a show’s actual demographics. Meanwhile, Apple supports tvOS, a system with an IFA that lets marketers engage CTV audiences with customized ads in a way that’s similar to iOS IDFA for Apple mobile devices. A challenge is these connected devices’ targeting and measurement capabilities are incompatible to one another. And while non-standardized device IDs are passed in CTV ad requests, many CTV publishers don’t provide a device ID at all.

The ability to target consumers staring raptly at their favorite shows with personalized, data-driven ads already has brands and agencies champing at the bit.

Further, since CTV is the most brand-centric programmatic format available, the need for a common form of offline attribution will be more important than ever, especially in terms of attracting branding budgets to precise programmatic delivery and in measuring conversion uplift higher in the marketing funnel. A universal identifier can also improve upon attribution for programmatic CTV.

And then, of course, there’s the Holy Grail for advertisers: the possibility of coordinating cross-device, cross-channel video campaigns with scaled reach across desktop web, mobile web, mobile app and CTV channels.

Clearly, the opportunity is ripe. But challenges remain. Even when successful, CTV targeting and attribution may be inconsistent and limited in scale due to the degree of fragmentation across platforms, publishers, and data providers.

No single advertiser, publisher, channel, network or device manufacturer can put all the pieces together. Players from across digital and television ecosystems need to work together to create and deploy a common, CTV-specific audience identifier – one that’s available as consistently as a cookie is available on the desktop.

Television, by its nature, relies on demographic or household-based targeting, whereas digital advertising is built on a more precision-based targeting model across computers, tablets and smartphones. Today, CTV marketers have nothing equivalent to the cookie-based universal tracking ability of desktop. Traditional targeting tactics like frequency capping, viewability scripts, and segment pixels don’t work consistently – at least not yet.

Such initiatives are now underway. As of this year, platforms like AppNexus, broadcasters such as CBS, and video players like JW Player have teamed up with the IAB on an OTT Working Group to develop and produce a standard identifier for CTV-based advertising.

But in order to truly meet the scale and precision that today’s data-driven, cross-channel ad campaigns require, the collaborative effort needs to be even greater. The manufacturers of connected devices need to ensure support for a universal IFA. That means working in tandem with the likes of Smart TV players like Samsung, SONY, SHARP, and LG and connected gaming systems like Microsoft’s Xbox One X. In fact, this kind of IFA solution could improve upon current industry cross-device solutions as it wouldn’t be limited in scale by login data or IP-based household targeting.

In the midst of all this new cross connecting, it’s important not to neglect the end-user experience. . Users should be given the ability to reset their IFAs to go without ad tracking. Giving users the option of “opting out” helps create trust and transparency in programmatic CTV advertising, something that digital advertising needs as a whole, as recent studies show.

A project to provide an IFA that’s re-settable and anonymous would also dovetail nicely with other industry-wide efforts to develop people-based identifiers for the open internet. Currently, a cross-company consortium (of which AppNexus is a founding member) is working to develop a common ID with rich metadata that can be used across the internet. 

For decades, TV advertising has primarily targeted audiences based on the demographics of the show being watched. Connected TV is poised to change that, and now is the time for the broader industry to work together to lay the groundwork for a universal IFA for cross-device, cross-channel delivery, and offline attribution. Doing so will prepare us for the day when connected television is no longer a subset of television: It will be television, plain and simple.

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