Buyers Have Been Less Sceptical Towards AVOD Startups During Lockdown

Bill SwansonIRIS.TV, a tech company which works in video personalisation and contextual targeting, earlier this year launched a new ‘Contextual Video Marketplace’, a product which will enable contextual buying for video and CTV inventory.

And last month the company brought in Bill Swanson from Telaria, a supply-side platform which specialises in CTV, to lead strategy in EMEA and help roll out the new product across the region. VAN spoke with Swanson to hear how attitudes toward ad-supported video on-demand (AVOD) platforms are changing in Europe, and how publishers’ video strategies are developing in light of the lockdown.

Video consumption has grown during the lockdown, and video/CTV revenues have been more stable than display. Do you think this will encourage more investment in video from publishers?

There has been a lot of talk over the last few years that video is the place to be, that’s where you get better CPMs and if you invest there, the money will follow.

I think the money has now followed. That doesn’t necessarily mean publishers will start moving into broadcast or onto CTV platforms, but I think some will look at doing that because we’re seeing money moving from traditional TV onto CTV/AVOD. Publishers are going to want a piece of that cake, but the challenge there is that they’ve got to have the right kind of video, and it’s got to be broadcast quality.

Looking purely on desktop and mobile, we know consumers are spending more and more time on video. A lot of that obviously is YouTube and the other walled gardens, but publishers know the more video content they have, the stickier their website becomes, and the higher CPMs they’ll get for their content. And publishers have the advantage that their sites are seen as premium and brand-safe, which 99 times out of 100 they are, so buyers have an appetite for it too.

Do you think the boom in video viewing we’ve seen during lockdown is sustainable, or is it temporary?

There have been some stats recently showing that some of the higher consumption rates we’ve seen on services like Netflix have dropped off a bit. They’ve not returned to pre-COVID levels, but as lockdown laws have been relaxed and people have been freed up a bit, we are starting to see those higher consumption levels come down.

But at the end of the day, where there’s quality content, people will want to watch it, and they’ll continue moving away from traditional linear platforms and onto digital ones. So we’re going to see ad dollars lighting up the likes of Pluto TV and other AVOD channels, that in the past were seen as digital spend, rather than TV spend.

The question then is whether those new platforms should get the same sorts of rates as traditional TV. Ultimately, that content is being watched on the same sized screen as with traditional TV, you’ve got people engaged in a TV environment, and it’s quality programming. It’s just a question of making sure the advertising experience is consistent and provides a TV-like experience.

If the AVOD players can make sure that happens and use the relevant technologies, there’s no reason they shouldn’t get the kinds of TV rates that are currently out there as that money moves onto digital platforms.

What sorts of attitudes do you see from buyers towards AVOD platforms which aren’t run by traditional broadcasters?

When I was at Telaria, when we first started speaking to clients about Pluto TV (for example), it would be a straight “no”. They were only interested in Channel 4, ITV and Sky, which they know are brand safe and premium.

But buyers themselves have been sat at home watching more content and trying out AVOD services just like the rest of us. So they’re starting to understand what services like Pluto TV and Rakuten TV are, and the sorts of content they have.

I wouldn’t say the money has moved over yet, but I think there’s a better understanding of what these channels are, and what type of content sits in them.

Looking at some of the better known AVOD platforms out there, Roku is interesting as an aggregator of a whole bunch of content, but that means not all of that will be brilliant content. Pluto TV is syndicating and building out a very healthy content offering, but not every brand is going to want to be next to all the content that’s in there. And Rakuten still has a relatively limited offering, so the number of views they’re getting are still relatively low but growing.

But the barrier to entry for consumers to try these services is low – they just need a big screen and an internet connection. So consumers will try out these platforms, and it’s up to those AVOD services to make sure they’ve got good content. The dollars will follow quality audiences, and quality audiences will follow quality content.

For the buy-side, I think there’s still more education needed, but I think COVID-19 has sped that up, and I think we’ll see the dollars flowing towards the likes of Pluto TV and Rakuten TV perhaps more quickly than we’d anticipated pre COVID-19.

With browsers ending support for third-party cookies, will we see a shift towards contextual targeting? And how easy will that transition be for buyers?

In the video and TV space, it’s pretty much always been contextually targeted anyway. BARB is great, but the panel is tiny, so people have been buying contextually on TV for years.

So I think the video space is well equipped for the change, it’s just a question and making sure that you’re working with the right technologies to make sure it’s brand safe.

But yes, I think contextual targeting will become more and more key. If you look at the display marketplace on desktop, which is obviously very cookie led at the moment, I think that will come down to a contextual buy, where you’re working data providers and contextual companies who can layer data on top.

For video and CTV, it’s a case of making sure that people can buy around the relevant video content, regardless of whatever else is on the page, and that’s where IRIS.TV comes in. You might for example want to buy on content relating to Cristiano Ronaldo, and you might get content like that on a page relating to Manchester United. If you’re looking at the page ID you wouldn’t see anything about Ronaldo. So you need to look at the video assets and the content in that video.

And as more video is consumed, that will become even more important – making sure that advertising is relevant to the video content, rather than the page content.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted some of the nuances in handling brand safety – where overly strict brand safety controls can end up doing more harm than good. What lessons do you think we’ve learned from the pandemic and the protests when it comes to brand safety?

I think it’s shown that the more granular you can get in your understanding of content, the better. We’ve seen some cases where brand safety controls have almost been too brand safe and it’s backfired, stopping publishers from monetising their content.

So from a video and CTV perspective, you need as much granularity as you can get in understanding what’s in that video, so you can then decide if you want to buy that or not.

Video is so rich, and obviously you can pull out so much metadata and contextual data from that, so it’s probably a safer place to buy. And there’s tonnes of video out there, so you can make life easier by making sure you’re working with quality publishers.

And it’s the same with us. There’s so much video out there, and we could choose to work with absolutely everyone if we wanted, because it’s a very simple process to bring new publishers on board. But we don’t, because there’s enough scale available from premium quality publishers and CTV companies.

What is the Contextual Video Marketplace, and what’s the strategy behind it?

The Contextual Video Marketplace developed out of IRIS.TV’s history of working with publishers, enabling them to get more detail on the video content that sits within their sites, which we can use for things like content recommendations.

Since GDPR came into force, the team saw an opportunity to help use the original personalisation platform, and to combine it with data from other providers, for contextual ad targeting. We work with companies like Grapeshot (ODC), Comscore, and GumGum, who can overlay their data segments on top of our video data. And by having audience data along with this contextual data, that creates a far richer, and unique, buy for the buy-side.

And we work with video and with CTV. There aren’t cookies in CTV environments anyway, and with the conversation around third-party cookies being abolished, contextual targeting has become even more key.

So the Contextual Video Marketplace should enable a richer and more transparent buy for the buy-side, while also ensuring brand safety and premium environments.

How will IRIS.TV be rolling out the product in EMEA?

What’s interesting at the moment is that every SSP is fighting to prove their worth to publishers. It’s a tough market for them, because the publishers tend to use them all through header bidding.

We’re SSP agnostic, which is great because that means we can work with all the SSPs publishers use. But the publishers and CTV suppliers we’ve worked with historically aren’t necessarily aware of what we’re doing for them from a commercial perspective. So step one is lighting up the supply we have, and making sure they know what data they’re supposed to be passing. We then need to make sure SSPs are looking out for that contextual IRIS.TV data in the ad calls coming from their publishers. Then we make sure the DSPs, and then the agencies and brands, are aware of what we’re doing and how to use it.

A few weeks into my role, most of the supply I’ve been speaking with now understands what we’re doing. Some of the SSPs are already on board too, and we’re educating DSPs in what they need to be looking out for and how they can package up what we offer.

Once we’ve mapped all that out, we’ll start looking at bringing on more supply. A lot of that will be CTV. We’ve seen during lockdown that consumption of CTV content has far exceeded what anyone anticipated, but the buy-side doesn’t necessarily know who a lot of these AVOD companies are, and don’t know whether they’re brand safe.

So as we push into CTV and are able to provide that contextual information, it’ll be easier for buyers to identify what they’re buying, so there’s a big opportunity there to open up the growing AVOD inventory and platforms.

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