As ad spend on connected-TV grows, there are still a number of key issues which need to be ironed out. Some will require changes from OTT platforms themselves and cooperation across the industry, but there are steps advertisers can take now to protect themselves from CTV’s pitfalls says Anna Kuzmenko, COO at Fiksu.
YouTube’s vast audience and precise targeting have led many brands and advertisers to stick with the platform despite its various brand safety issues. But it seems fair to say there’s been something of a loss of confidence in the platform, with several major brands pulling ads from YouTube in response to several of the biggest incidents, even if they’ve later returned.
The most recent of these major brand safety incidents came near the beginning of this year. In February 2019, an investigation from Wired and a video by YouTuber Matt Watson revealed that ads of brands including Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Fortnite, Grammarly, L’Oreal, Maybelline, etc. were run against videos involving children with extremely inappropriate discussions in the comments section. The videos themselves weren’t necessarily offensive, but the comments sections were being used by paedophiles to share time stamps for moments where the children were in “sexually implicit positions”, according to Watson’s report.
This case again highlighted the potential risks of automatic advertising placement on platforms like YouTube. The crisis ended in Disney, Nestle, Fortnite and other global brands pulling YouTube ads, while others made public apologies in attempts to distance themselves from the placements.
Are CTV Ads an Alternative?
Given these risks, many marketers are looking for alternatives, with connected TV (CTV) seen as one possible solution, given its potential reach and premium content. And indeed, CTV spend is quickly ramping up. According to a Magna forecast, CTV and OTT ad markets will reach nearly $4 billion by the end of 2019 and $5 billion in 2020. But there are still crucial issues that need to be addressed if CTV is to prove a more viable alternative to YouTube:
- OTT Fragmentation. The number of OTT services is rapidly growing. More and more new companies are entering the ring, and this complicates the job of media buyers. Not only is the bidding workflow different (and therefore confusing) for each platform, but also it’s hard to de-duplicate audiences across platforms.
And this fragmentation means that the number of impressions coming from one platform tend to vary greatly depending on which ad exchange is used, and these numbers may be inflated. For one top tier CTV channel, we’ve seen one major exchange delver under 10 million ad requests, while another delivers over 1.5 billion.
- Measurement. While the appetite for CTV advertising is growing, one big roadblock to widespread adoption by advertisers is the fact that there’s currently no clear way to evaluate the performance and define benchmarks across all platforms. Even though there are global solutions like Comscore that tend to measure content delivery and viewability, the market is still far from being well-defined, and standardisation still needs to be a top priority for CTV.
- Brand safety. While brands may look to CTV in the wake of brand safety scandals, not all CTV content is guaranteed brand safe. CTV has its own problems around user-generated content that is streamed on niche OTT channels. It’s simply not accurate for brands to think that running ads on CTV is a way to avoid brand safety hazards, the challenges are the same as those faced by marketers on desktop or mobile environments. And this problem may get even worse as CTV platforms grow.
- Fraud. According to research from AdLedger, 18 percent of OTT inventory is fraudulent. One of the most common types of OTT ad fraud is where ads intended for US audiences are delivered in other territories. Device-based fraud is also common, where a single device reports an extremely high number of ads during a given time period, at rates of around 50 ads per minute. And app-based fraud works similarly, with an ad-supported OTT app reporting extremely high rates of activity around the clock.
How can brands avoid CTV’s pitfalls?
While this may paint a gloomy picture, this doesn’t mean it’s not possible to run effective campaigns on CTV, but just that brands and advertisers need to be careful with how they run their CTV campaigns. Here are the key things to keep in mind before running your first ad campaign on CTV:
- Make sure that you work with ad tech vendors that allow you to buy across all the major platforms like Roku, AppleTV, Samsung Tizen, AndroidTV, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox and more. This will help you avoid the hassle of managing all your campaigns on each OTT platform separately, and avoid problems of different exchanges offering different volumes of impressions.
- Never shoot in the dark — use exhaustive and comprehensive performance reports. The key metrics to evaluate the success of your campaign are Total Viewability Time, View Through Rate, and Completion Rate, but others can also be useful. And advertisers should check users’ interaction with their ads. Pay attention to when viewers stop, skip, resume, and mute/unmute your ad. These insights will can help build an understanding of the audience and inform decisions around creative and formats.
- In order to eliminate major brand safety threats, seek ad placement on premium content platforms. This will reduce total reach available on CTV, but will mean you are protected from having your message shown next to the low-quality or distressing content that compromises your brand’s reputation.
- As for fraud prevention, it’s important that you work with a third-party company to detect and eliminate fraud. Companies like Pixalate and DoubleVerify detect fraudulent traffic by analysing hundreds of millions of devices in order to identify and block threats, and many have been putting an increased focus on fighting CTV and OTT fraud over the past few years.