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Does Connected TV Have a Transparency Problem?

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Since the beginning of advertising, brands have clamored for clearer reporting and standardized metrics no matter the medium. Once we entered the digital age, it seemed that marketers would finally be able to give a clear answer as to the concrete impact of their advertising - after all, digital was billed as "the Measurement Medium." 

Now, with the adoption of new marketing channels like CTV, brands find themselves struggling to accurately measure campaign performance and gauge success. 

This is not helped when companies like Nielsen, whose existence is meant to provide more transparency in the television market, end up underreporting viewing audiences and losing their accreditation. In fact, there have long been questions as to the accuracy of Nielsen’s rankings for streaming shows owing to the difficulties not only of getting viewership data from notoriously tight-lipped platforms, but also because the company only counts views on television sets—which, in today’s age of connected devices, is not exactly a foolproof methodology. Moreover, Nielsen’s weekly rankings consist of shows from only a handful of streaming services—Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime—further limiting the amount of insight that advertisers can hope to receive. 

Advertisers need to make sure that they are only transacting with trusted publishers who can clearly show how their resources are being spent, and what results they've been able to get from it.  

During the pandemic, the use of streaming services amongst all demographics shot up significantly, as audiences coped with lockdown restrictions by binging films and shows in the safety of their own homes. A report by Nielsen released earlier this year claimed that people spent more time watching streaming services than broadcast television, and the company expects the total share of time spent streaming to increase to 33% by the end of the year. Brands invested heavily in this year’s upfronts to follow the audiences to CTV, and that trend will continue to develop. 

However, as The Media Kitchen's Samantha Stockton notes, "advertisers can buy inventory to reach consumers watching the same content in several different ways through several different companies," with varying degrees of control. They might choose to work directly with big-name streaming services (Hulu, Roku, etc.) and have more control over where their ads are placed, but less control over the amount of reach and the frequency with which their ads are shown. On the flip side, those same advertisers might opt to take the programmatic route and have their ads shown across multiple OTT channels, in which case they could manage frequency and reach directly but not have a say in where their ads end up. 

For brands who choose the latter option, brand safety is a very real concern. They have to trust that whichever service they use to place their ads is not showing them next to content that is at odds with their brand values, and instead placing them with reputable publishers in high-value locations. One way to ensure that advertising budgets are being spent properly would be to work directly with the channel itself, as that way brands know exactly what types of content their ads will be shown against, as well as which people are viewing their ads.  

Another difficulty that brands currently face when trying to determine the efficacy of OTT advertising campaigns is the fact that the major streaming services are walled gardens, making it complicated for brands to aggregate their results across platforms. The lack of an industry-wide standard for metrics and reporting further adds to the confusion and makes it difficult for brands to gauge the true impact of their ads. Consequently, one way to ensure better transparency, as well as more accountability, would be for the OTT media industry to work with advertisers in order to come up with a better, consistent way of measuring OTT campaigns. 

As advertising shifts to new channels like CTV, it's important that platforms provide transparency in order to enable clients to make the best decisions with their marketing spend, as well as reassure them that the money is being spent as promised. And with connected TV now generating billions of dollars' worth of advertising, it’s more vital than ever that platforms are held accountable.  

Without transparency, advertising just doesn’t work. Brands need to know what they’re paying for, and they need to know that it’s worth their money. If an OTT media partner’s product is as good as they say it is, they shouldn’t have any problems providing that assurance.

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