Peak Performance: Biometric Study Spotlights “Engagement Zone” of Contextual CTV Ads


By Sarah Lewis, Global Director CTV at ShowHeroes Group

Connected TV (CTV) has revolutionised the way we watch TV in the modern world, sparking a sharp rise in “cord-cutting” – as consumers trade linear for streamed viewing (on Xbox, Playstation, Amazon Fire TV and more). It’s estimated that CTVs are now the most-used digital device after smartphones, with 66% of UK households tuning in daily, and 53% viewers consuming content for over four hours per day. The average home, meanwhile, contains nearly three connected TV devices.

With so many eyeballs on CTV content, it’s not surprising that advertisers are looking at ways to get in on the action in this lucrative market. Yet the transition has happened fast; so rapidly, in fact, that brands are still playing catch-up in understanding how exactly users respond to CTV ads.

Seeking to close the gap, ShowHeroes Group recently teamed up with market research agency COG, in a groundbreaking study that looked more closely at the behavioural impact of CTV as an emerging tech.

Biometric Proof

In the test, devised with Amanda Ellison, Professor of Neuroscience at Durham University, participants wore cutting-edge Tobii eye tracking glasses and eSense electrodermal response sensors as they watched linear and CTV in a natural home environment. The two pieces of technology worked in tandem with each other. While the eye-tracking glasses showed where users’ attention was focused, the response sensors highlighted how engaged they were at any particular moment; and whether they felt overwhelmed by what they were viewing.

Since people typically underreport how influenced they are by ads, this biometric methodology allowed viewer receptiveness to be tracked on a subliminal level. Data was then combined with a survey of 2,100 people in seven European locations, to build up a broader picture of CTV viewing habits.

When compared to linear TV and YouTube, the CTV results showed a number of compelling differences. The tracking glasses found that users had an average attention span of 12.2 seconds for CTV before looking away; nearly three seconds longer than on linear TV, and five times the length of attention paid to YouTube.

Similarly, during CTV ads, the response sensors measured that viewers were in the so-called “engagement zone” for 71% of the time; 11% higher than on YouTube ads. Combining these two metrics (attention span and engagement), CTV was by far the best format for ad exposure. Viewers responding to CTV content spent 51% of time in an optimal state of attentive engagement; 17% higher than linear TV, and 40% higher than YouTube.

The State of Mind Prefix

When taken in tandem with the cinematic appeal of CTV – a sphere in which viewability is effectively 100% – the format’s potential is dialled up still further, offering a trinity of high-calibre engagement, attention and big-screen visibility for innovative brands.

There is however an important point – as revealed in the follow-up interviews with 20 participants in the biometric trial, along with the wider survey of European viewing preferences.

Encouragingly, most CTV viewers want ads: 57% said they preferred ad-supported free content over increasing their CTV subscriptions. But they are particularly receptive to ads which are relevant to what they’re watching. A massive 67% of respondents said this was important.

All of this points to the fact that, to make the most of the CTV growth, advertisers need to use semantic targeting – or tech that contextually matches ads to the content they’re being displayed alongside.

Getting the balance with contextual advertising, in turn, is vital to connecting with viewers in the right frame of mind for ad exposure. The study found that 43% of users searched for a product after seeing it during a relevant CTV ad, and 1 in 5 went on to make a purchase.

A New Frontier for CTV

Contextual advertising is also important given the unique status of CTV in the home. Because streamed TV is often consumed in the sitting room, with several members of the same family watching, demographic profiling becomes redundant. By tethering advertising around contextual, rather than individual, data, brands can appeal to multiple viewers at once. It’s also a strategy that abides with stringent new privacy legislation, amid a global crackdown on data protection.

ShowHeroes’ experiment proves that viewers watching CTV in a relaxed, receptive state are at the perfect point to remember messages and brand stories. They are less distracted than when watching on other mediums and more likely to act on the messages that they hear; especially when they’re content-compatible, and appear in context to whatever is being viewed.

The biometric data alone should also be seen as a conclusive prompt, moving publishers away from a quick-win strategy and towards a more holistic approach; one in which contextual relevance and creativity is key.

In a fragmented and uncertain ad space, the future of CTV is alive with exciting possibilities. Creating the antidote to fast and loose messaging, and general internet “noise”, it carries the potential to create some incredible ad experiences that really chime with viewers. Watch this space for a new calibre of standout CTV campaigns.

To download the full study, follow this link.

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