Why Harnessing The Power Of CTV Calls For More Enlightened Targeting

By Bill Swanson, EMEA Strategy Lead, IRIS.TV

Audiences rediscovered their love for TV in a big way last year, specifically its more flexible digital incarnation. At the pandemic peak, CTV consumption soared by 160% globally and almost half of the consumers admitted to heavier use. Even with stay-at-home orders now easing, the rekindled relationship remains steady and is particularly strong in the US; with viewer numbers exceeding expectations and set to reach 213.7 million monthly.

What the advertising position should be in all of this is obvious. As a fast-growing format that combines the linear-level reach and non-skippable content with digital addressability, CTV is an unmissable opportunity. According to a five-year study by Fox, CTV’s powerful blend allows it to drive ROAS up to 10 times higher than traditional TV. But while there are positive signs of climbing interest, investment is still relatively sluggish. When compared to the $60 billion US advertisers spent on overall TV in 2020, CTV’s $9 billion is a smaller slice of the total pie.


The headline causes behind slower CTV adoption are also clear: measurement difficulties mixed with increasing privacy and brand safety concerns. But the question is: what’s really at the root of current issues and — more importantly — how can challenges be overcome to pave the way for more enlightened and effective CTV targeting – and therefore, investment?

Poor data accessibility and high complexity drive confusion

Audience targeting has long been the bedrock of digital advertising and issues with achieving it in the CTV space have created sticking points for buyers. By now, it’s well-recognized that the persistent legacy problems are limited data and silos. Content owners keen to avoid potential piracy, losing control of assets or letting advertisers take their pick of media have understandably kept a tight hold on video data: leaving buyers with poor transparency into user habits and performance. At the same time, fragmented platforms, metrics and inventory have posed additional challenges for accurate cross-channel measurement and attribution.

The continuing tide of privacy restrictions, however, has only brought more complications. Following on from the GDPR, CCPA and Google’s third-party cookie countdown, changes such as Apple’s move against the IDFA have stripped away further layers of data for mobile and video, making individual behaviour and ad impact even harder to track. With fresh legislation such as the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) looming, hurdles for standard methods of user identification and audience-centric targeting are stacking up for CTV, as well as the broad digital ecosystem — fuelling the need for a significant and speedy revision of old ways.

Developments such as collaboration between leading ad tech players on interoperable unified ID solutions are encouraging, providing wider options for cookie-free, cross-channel delivery. But there is still some way to go, and it’s also worth noting these innovations don’t tackle the other key CTV issue: safety.

Brand safety engines are lacking in fuel

Another core obstacle for increasingly safety-conscious buyers is the risk of ads being seen in the wrong places. A growing priority before COVID-19, brand safety has soared to the top of advertising agendas as the online climate becomes more volatile and consumer awareness of brand responsibility grows. See, for instance, recent findings that 45% feel less favourable towards brands when their ads are seen beside low-quality content and 39% would stop using them completely. Once again, what this has to do with CTV comes down to data.

While leading industry forces have worked to create categories that help advertisers better define and reach what they consider safe — such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) — many initiatives depend on data. For display and search, gaining the data needed to establish context and inform ad serving decisions has typically relied on basic text-based data scraped from web pages. When it comes to CTV, the absence of page-level data has made for even less insight and precision; a situation not helped by shrinking third-party data stores. The future of the IP address as a long-term identifier for example is far from certain, with many marketers turning their heads instead to contextual targeting options.

The death of data has left buyers with few options except applying keyword blocking, where generic blocklists of undesirable terms are used to keep ads and budgets away from unsafe media: a tactic that creates well-publicised limits for campaign scope, audience engagement possibilities, and seller revenue in the process.

What’s old is new: enter context revamped

Of the available solutions, probably the best poised to quickly and simply remove CTV adoption barriers is context-based targeting. This isn’t news to advertisers amid a growing buzz of the budding context renaissance, but a lack of access to video-level data has meant ambitions haven’t yet translated into a practical or workable application. Thanks to the latest technological developments, however, that is set to change.

A new class of tools is emerging that’s gearing up to change the CTV landscape in two crucial ways. Firstly, neutral data platforms are making it possible for media owners and distributors to securely onboard their video data without giving up control and compromising user privacy, in addition to supporting onward data flow via multi-faceted APIs. This means vital contextual information — such as video metadata, visual and audio elements — can be safely shared with SSPs, DPS, ad servers, verification providers and content assessment tools, allowing the whole system to run smoothly and dramatically improving transparency.

Secondly, advanced analytical technology can use this data to understand deeper context, enabling advertisers to “think inside the video”. Using granular sight, sound and motion data, tools can run robust analysis on the topical nature of every video at speed and scale; enabling brand-safe contextual targeting that aligns with unique parameters for the types of placement brands to want to steer clear of, as well as directing spend at highly refined suitable categories.

The next few years will inevitably bring a further shift away from user-centric targeting as data challenges and privacy regulations multiply, but that doesn’t have to mean missing out on the CTV opportunity. By looking beyond the narrow confines of identity-based tailoring and making the most of new innovations, advertisers can significantly broaden their horizons. Joining the movement towards user-friendly and enlightened contextual targeting at the video level will open up a greater range of possibilities to fuel better relevance, experiences, and results.

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