The Shared Device Problem for TV Attribution Still Needs to be Solved

Tripp Boyle

As OTT devices and Smart TVs usher in a host of new online capabilities, it opens up opportunities for the same sorts of attribution modelling used in digital advertising to be applied to TV. But given that TV’s traditional proposition has been based around reach and impact, there has generally been less demand – and lower expectations – from the buy-side.

This has changed in recent years, due in part to digital-native direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands increasingly investing in TV says Tripp Boyle, chief revenue officer at Connekt Technologies, an ad tech company which adds interactive elements to TV advertising. These new brands are moving into TV as they seek to reach new audiences, but come expecting the same types of measurement they encounter on social platforms.

Many of the large traditional brands are following suit. “Those DTC brands aren’t small any more, they’re carving out significant market share with their focus on being more nimble with their data-driven media buying,” said Boyle. “And this is making the legacy brands move forward far more quickly. In some cases it’s the brands that have been around longer that are starting to move in bigger ways first,” he said.

Bringing OEMs on Board

Given this demand, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and tech companies are collaborating on solutions to make this possible. Connekt, for example, places overlays over the top of TV ads which invite a direct response from viewers, such as downloading an app or ordering the product, allowing advertisers to gauge the direct-response impact of that ad. But at the moment, scale is one of the key issues for solutions like these.

“It’s still early,” said Boyle. “It’s easy to pixel a television exposure on a smart TV, and pixel a URL on a website to measure site traffic. But for folks who are trying to get to the bottom of that data, as to the scale at which they can apply it to audiences across other devices as well as possible, you’re still looking at a smaller sample size,” he said. “But we’re encouraged with progress, as are our brand partners, and it’s only going to improve.”

The Shared Device Problem

While Boyle expects scale to increase over the coming years as more manufacturers integrate with attribution providers, there remains a trickier problem to solve. As TV is often consumed by multiple people at any given time, with various people often watching at different times, don’t fit cleanly into multi-touch attribution models in the same that, for example, personal devices like smartphones do.

“I can look at an IP address and create a device graph, and I can make some directional guesses about which individual in the home was watching based on what content was being viewed,” said Boyle. “But to do that definitively is difficult without some sort of eyes in the room, which gets creepy!”

“So in that hyper-accurate multi-touch attribution model, TV is going to be the challenge there”, he said.

Another potential roadblock for TV attribution is regulation around data handling, though Boyle believes this won’t cause any significant disruption, or at least no more so than it does for the rest of the digital world.

Solutions already have to be designed with strict safeguards around user privacy, since the device manufacturers tend to be cautious about adding any features which might hinder their device sales.

“The OEMs now appreciate that there’s a new revenue stream here, whether that’s data or advertising. But they’ve got to be incredibly careful about what they share or don’t share.” said Boyle. “They know that if all of a sudden they’re perceived as the brand which gives away all your data, that’s going to cost device sales, and that’s the last thing they want. The advertising or data revenue stream at this point is a drop in the bucket.”

Will Direct Response TV Become Mainstream?

As TV attribution develops and the industry finds solutions to these problems, could we see TV’s proposition as a whole change, as it becomes increasingly associated with direct-response advertising? Boyle doesn’t believe so.

“It’s been proven for decades that TV is good at those upper-funnel metrics – we can’t completely lose sight of that,” he said. The TV will always be that big, high impact screen in your house, it’s not going away.”

Rather, he thinks that more response-based TV advertising will be additive to TV’s traditional proposition based around reach and brand-building, existing perhaps as a new TV line item. And as TV networks look for new ways to add value for their brand partners in the face of falling ratings, cracking attribution in shared environments could be one way of doing that.

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