Programmatic Connected TV Advertising Will Only Scale with Universal Identifiers

Eric HoffertWhilst we’re seeing widespread industry acceptance of the opportunities offered by data-driven targeting, the connected TV world still doesn’t have a universal identifier for advertising (IFA). Here Eric Hoffert, SVP of Video Technology at AppNexus, explains why the industry needs to come together to agree on an identifier if connected TV advertising is to scale quickly and cohesively.

Connected TVs (CTVs) are increasingly becoming the go-to choice for UK consumers, with the percentage of UK households who own the tech rising to 27 percent in 2016. At last, CTV presents the opportunity marketers have been waiting for: an organic way to more precisely reach and message to their most coveted audiences directly in their living rooms.

The meteoric rise of on-demand streaming services such as Netflix—whose number of subscribers surpassed 100 million in 2017—indicate the sheer scale of opportunity presented through the CTV industry. But it isn’t just subscription services. Ad-supported over-the-top (OTT) services like Hulu and SlingTV already have enough scale to deliver campaign budget and delivery targets.

Now, thanks to CTV, marketers have a chance to engage viewers with customized content in a way that has never previously been available to them. However, to allow programmatic targeting of CTV audiences, there is a pressing need for consensus within the industry on a critical issue: a universal identifier for advertising (IFA). Without an IFA, the £5bn television advertising industry could fail to fulfil the programmatic promise of machine learning-driven targeting and instead perpetuate today’s manual status quo. Manual advertising, through buying and selling premium ad inventory up front and in bulk, is extremely limited and does not hold the same level of personalisation or accuracy of programmatic.

The possibilities for advertisers on CTV do not stop at more tailored campaigns and improved precision. There is also greater opportunity to coordinate all-encompassing, cross-device, cross-channel video campaigns that have the reach of desktop internet, mobile internet, mobile app, as well as CTV channels. Nevertheless, this is more difficult without the use of an IFA.

Some connected devices already support the use of IFAs to tailor TV advertisements. One example is Apple’s tvOS system, which has an IFA that allows marketers to reach CTV audiences with customized advertisements in a similar way to Apple mobile devices’ purpose-built IDFA. However, the capabilities of these connected devices to target and measure audience engagement are incompatible with one another. Moreover, the use of such device IDs is patchy and irregular, and some CTV publishers do not provide a device ID at all.

This disjointed relationship between platforms, publishers and data providers impacts the consistency and the scale of CTV targeting and attribution. Complete cohesiveness is unachievable by one single entity, whether that be an advertiser, publisher, channel, network or device manufacturer. Players from all areas of the digital and television industries must work together to create and deploy a consistently available universal audience identifier.

Operam, a buyer of CTV supply focusing on the promotion of movies, films, and TV shows, agrees that universal IDs are one of the most important necessities in the ad tech industry. “The ability to target consumers with personalized advertisements that seamlessly fit into their viewing habits is an amazing development for marketers and content producers alike,” said Johnny Wong, Co-Founder, Operam. “CTV is another platform that fits into our overall holistic strategy and is essential when looking to expand our reach with core audience segments beyond other digital platforms and linear TV. However, a universal indicator is critical, especially in terms of improving attribution for programmatic CTV.”

A universal identifier would give CTV marketers an equivalent to the cookie-based universal tracker of desktop internet. This would allow them to fully harness the more precise targeting model on which digital advertising is built and deploy it across computers, tablets and smartphones. Traditional targeting tactics such as frequency capping, viewability scripts and segment pixels do not yet work consistently, though such strategies are now in progress.

This year, platforms such as AppNexus and video players like JW Player have teamed up with the Interactive Advertising Bureau on an OTT Working Group in order to establish a standard identifier for CTV based advertising. However, to reach the full potential and precision required by these modern, data-driven and cross-channel ad campaigns, cooperation across industries needs to be far greater.

Manufacturers of connected devices need to guarantee support for a universal IFA and work together with Smart TV manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony, and LG. This kind of IFA solution could even be an improvement on the current industry cross-device system as it would not be limited in scale by login data or IP-based household targeting.

It is imperative that this new inter-channel connecting prioritizes the end-user experience. Users should have the option of resetting their IFAs to disable ad tracking. Giving users an option helps to create trust and transparency in programmatic CTV advertising, something that is certainly needed in digital advertising.

Historically, TV advertising has predominantly targeted audiences based on demographics for the program that is being watched. CTV will drastically alter how this targeting works, offering a better, and more seamless way for marketers to reach consumers. The broader industry must lay the foundations for a universal IFA to ensure a smooth cross-device, cross-channel delivery and offline attribution. This will prepare the industry for when CTV is no longer an offshoot of television, but the primary option.

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