Inside the Mind of CTV Buyers: Confidence Is Key to Getting the Most From This Channel

By Rob Ishag, RVP, Demand Sales, Northern Europe,  TripleLift

Last year, for the first time, both Ofcom and Nielsen reported a significant decline in broadcast TV viewing across the globe, signalling just how much viewing habits are changing. Now, most consumers pay for at least three subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, watching an average of more than seven apps on their connected TV (CTV) devices.

With the influx of CTV viewers, the number of opportunities for advertisers grows. But as CTV evolves as an advertising channel, brands have to learn and adapt quickly. While media buyers investing in linear TV or digital advertising can fall back on best practice guidelines drawn up over years of experience, with newer formats such as CTV there is no playbook.

In this article, I explore different approaches to CTV buying, sharing insight into key aspects, such as supply chain and targeting, that can help marketers unlock the value this channel offers.

Diverse CTV buyers mean different comfort levels

CTV buyers aren’t a homogenous group, so it’s helpful to identify the different buying teams and what motivates them. Digital investment teams within agencies are primarily looking to achieve high performance and scale as they seek the best impact for their clients. Traditional TV and video teams are experts in planning linear TV campaigns, branching out into CTV with a focus on the quality of the inventory.

Programmatic teams tend to have a more hands-on approach to CTV buys, and are looking to balance high performance with low costs; they also crave easy activation. Innovation teams tend to be small groups of strategists who are hoping to exploit the newest capabilities of CTV to unlock new revenue streams that they can quickly scale – for example, shoppable ads.

Overall comfort level in planning CTV buys has increased significantly from 2022 to 2023. However, when it comes to buying, digital investment and video  teams are less confident in purchasing CTV than planning for it.

Broadly speaking, almost all ad purchasing can be split between two main approaches: automated media buying and direct media buying. Programmatic teams, who favour setting up campaigns automatically, skew towards demand-side platforms (DSPs), while digital investment teams are more likely to lean heavily on direct deals with publishers, through managed insertion orders (IOs). Innovation teams may favour direct one-to-one relationships with publishers, though still make a significant proportion of purchases through DSPs and IOs.

Ultimately, the combination of direct publisher relationships and deals that target the wider streaming ecosystems, including free ad-supported TV (FAST) and virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (vMVPDs) – think YouTube TV and Hulu – will help buyers reach a wider audience.

A complex supply chain calls for partners

In a rapidly evolving ecosystem, buyers must learn how to navigate the complex supply chain if they want to plot a path to maximising their CTV campaigns and minimising waste. There are several qualities buyers look for in their CTV partners. Top of the list is third-party measurement capabilities to help them quantify the effectiveness of their buys. Fraud protection should be a leading concern, while audience and content targeting capabilities are also important. Access to premium, top-tier inventory is also in the mix. 

Most buyers will have their favoured supply-side platform (SSP) – especially those in the video investment and innovation teams – and these preferences are usually dictated by access to a large range of unique inventory. Unique access to data is also a deciding factor, as is pricing.

However, some buyers feel there are too many intermediaries for comfort; delivery transparency and guaranteed rates are reasons that buyers may choose to work directly with publishers. More than half of CTV ad spend is allocated to upfront commitments – where direct deals with publishers and networks are agreed at some stage in the second quarter and executed throughout the rest of the year – and it’s the video investment teams that are the biggest investors in this method.

Direct-to-publisher facilitates content targeting and buying

Content targeting has been a topic of conversation in CTV for many months, though buyers are only just starting to uncover its multiple possibilities. Buyers are most likely to look to SSPs and publishers for content targeting solutions, as they are more likely to have access to scalable, rich content data.

Buyers are looking for more sophisticated and unique content attribute targeting that takes into account factors such as channel, content length, series, distributor, app, genre and so on. This content metadata represents the true potential of CTV targeting, but the availability of this metadata varies wildly across the various publisher types. For example, buyers looking to target by genre will get better signals from FAST than SVOD, and those who want to target by channel will get more signals from vMVPD than FAST.

Private marketplace (PMP) deals are scenarios where the publisher offers prioritised access to an exclusive list of advertisers, and they are prevalent in the CTV space to ensure quality of inventory and transparency. By leveraging the direct relationships SSPs have with publishers, brands can increase win rates and improve campaign delivery through PMPs, while also getting greater transparency over where their ads are running. It also saves the buyer from lengthy negotiations to set up these PMP deals.

Takeaway: Establish best practice frameworks to avoid analysis paralysis

As we’ve outlined, buyers have a great deal to think about as they adapt to the fast-changing CTV landscape. But over-thinking can lead to paralysis, so they must quickly establish a framework of best practices to help them be confident in the decisions they make.

Buyers need to be able to lean on their SSP partners for their close relationships to publishers, so trust is key. Direct publisher deals should be complemented by contextual targeting deals to reach audiences outside of specific platforms. Flexible planning informed by content metadata will enable campaign optimisation, so buyers should look for partners that can help them access this data. And it’s vital that buyers align publisher type to content type when leveraging content metadata signals. Not all SVODs offer the same signals as AVODs of vMVPDs, so buyers must learn what can be activated and where in order to maximise targeting efficiency.