The Ad Tech Industry Needs to Tell a Better Story
As an outsider reporting on the advertising side of streaming, I’ve tried to get experts to explain—in plain English—what is going on, what trends are important, what technology matters, and why we should care. Several years in, I’m still almost at a loss for words.
Moving Toward Transparency?
According to CTV company Innovid, based on data from Dentsu and eMarketer, of the $200 billion global TV ad spend, $15–$20 billion goes toward CTV. So what will it take to funnel more money to CTV? Transparency, says Innovid CTO Tal Chalozin.
But it doesn’t seem like it’s in a lot of companies’ interest to be transparent. Should they be transparent on pricing? Measurement?
Frequency capping? There are just too many competing interests, and there’s not enough incentive to make everyone play nice with each other.
Innovid has a valuable niche and is thriving, regardless of the complications in technology, measurement, fraud, or frequency capping. The company, which went public as CTV on the New York Stock Exchange in December 2021, does several things: It has an ad server,
an interactivity product, and measurement capabilities. “We provide a connected television media orchestration system,” says Chalozin. “It’s actually an ad-serving technology for the buy side.”
Or, in other words, Innovid is working with brands that place advertisement. “[In 2021,] we grew 30% year-over-year, and 45% of our total revenue is coming from connected television,” Chalozin says. In addition, Innovid acquired TVSquared in March 2022 to gain a bigger foothold in the European markets and to help the company increase its expertise in TV measurement, the much-sought-after nirvana that will deliver the ultimate viewing metric: multiplatform data that merges linear TV with CTV.
Same Problem, Different Ruler
Running ads on the product formerly known as TV was easy. There was one ad format. There was a consistent ad-tech platform. Nielsen gave a rough estimation based on extrapolating
panel data to show the potential reach of viewing patterns measured in gross rating points.
Signals went out, ads were included, and you got an idea about your reach. As an outsider, I’d say this doesn’t sound too precise, but it was the accepted measurement on which to transact.
There have been complaints for years that ad reporting in streaming should be more like that for TV, but I’m not so sure TV advertising was the golden child everyone thinks it was. We just have different problems today, brought about by innovations in technology, with many, many more endpoints in the equation. Now it’s about trying to get consistent buys in a multiplatform environment, in which each environment is slightly different from the next, requires different technical approaches, and supplies different reporting data.
One of the reasons for the bad rap advertising gets is the dreaded multiples of the same ad. “A family can watch Hulu on a Roku device and watch NBC content, and then you will see almost back to back an ad sold by Roku and an ad sold by Hulu and an ad sold by NBC,” Chalozin says. “So you bought media through the three largest suppliers, but it’s not clear that [as a brand running your advertisements] you’re getting three different instances of a stream, let alone three different families.”
That’s a valid point, but the problem with a famous brand’s ad appearing three times comes from how many delivery points there are, how advertising is bought and sold, and the fact that there’s no way right now to really track what’s being shown. This won’t change until either universal ad tracking is put in place and used by everyone or the method of buying inventory changes.
“Clients [want to know, if] I’m spending money in multiple places, what is the unique contribution of each and every media entity,” says Chalozin. “A lot of marketers are saying it’s extremely hard to understand that overlap between all of the different systems.”
Essentially, the problem facing each and every brand is figuring out what to do with the data they are obtaining from multiplatform campaigns—different flavors of CTV, mobile, desktop, and broadcast. Innovid provides self-
serve analytics and custom consulting. “We definitely give customers a dashboard. We give reporting. We also have, for very large customers, a team that helps them decipher and get insights out of the data,” says Chalozin. Innovid also has partnerships with third-party providers for services like identity management, auditing, fraud detection, and others we haven’t even touched on.
The Sky Is Falling
It’s hard for me to understand the difference between real and imagined problems in this industry. After a while, I just tune out, because we’ve crossed over from a specific, fixable problem to just the way things work.
My request is to talk about solutions and speak about them in a practical way that everyone can understand. Out of all of the technology products I write about, ad tech is one of the most important because it drives revenue, but it also seems to generate more whining than any other area. And if you can’t speak about problems in a concrete, evidence-based way, I can't help you.
I’m not sure advertising will ever be more transparent. It’s like playing poker with your cards on the table. However, the best thing the ad-tech industry can do is to pitch a better story. Think of it as creating ads for what and why our readers need to know about what you do. That would go a long way to improving coverage in this area. There’s a lot of technology, and then there's the larger discussion of advertising as a whole. First, try getting the technology story down. Then we can work on the nature of advertising itself.
Ad buying is changing. For example, now you can buy from an agency that has deep knowledge of data around local viewing, or you can go to a TV manufacturer that has deep knowledge of all of the viewing on its hardware.
For this column, I spoke with Larry Allen, VP and general manager of data and addressable enablement at Comcast Advertising, about a question that lands firmly on the deterministic side: "What is addressable advertising?" The term "addressable" refers to targeting digital and broadcast inventory and being able to buy audience segments on a household level.
Now that ad dollars are moving from broadcast to digital via CTV buys, maybe we need to accept that the measurement standards for digital and broadcast are always going to differ.
The internet fostered the ability to make changes on a continual basis, so how come national broadcast advertising is still being transacted in the upfronts (the same format that started in 1962), which require an annual dollar and audience-reach commitment in advance to buy and sell advertising?
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Advertisers are advised to use a combination of tactics to achieve their goals: Reach more potential buyers with traditional data-driven TV and then use addressable advertising as a tactic to reach those more likely to buy sooner.
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