Transparency in CTV: Are We Ready To Take On Linear?

Published by: Erik Thorson
Chief Technology Officer

In the last couple of years, we are seeing a true shift in television budgets to CTV or OTT. For digital advertisers this has always been on the horizon but at the same time has seemed to be just out of reach. The opportunity is closer than ever but with our current infrastructure and tools, do we have enough to compete with the longstanding Goliath?

Since the advent of public television advertising budgets have been dominated by linear tv spend and the approach to a media plan has never veered too far from the standard blueprint. Advertisers have always been targeting specific content and demographics that they believed to be their target audience. Most of the time that was a call to Neilson to identify the content along with a DMA that was relevant to their product. Seal, stamp, and deliver…

The promises of digital advertising; advanced targeting and reduced waste, although diluted because of the lack of personal identifiers, still exists in CTV. In the bid request, according to Open RTB 2.5 (the current standard) we get access to app, time of day, postal code, network, channel, title, and series and can decision on this inventory in real time. In addition, this is on an impression-by-impression basis offering potential for efficiencies that are not possible when casting a wide net, as is the case with linear tv.

This all sounds great but when digging deeper we get a different picture. The reality is that the CTV space is still young and unregulated. The data associated with these bid requests is still unstandardized, incomplete, and fragmented. Although app, time of day, postal code, network, channel, title, and series are available fields in the bid request they are usually only partially populated. For example, some requests come in with only network and channel populated while others come in with title and series; some have just one and others have everything.  Adding to the confusion, not only is the level of data transparency inconsistent across the industry, but the fields are inconsistently populated within bid requests from the same PMP, publisher, or media owner.

Something of particular concern is the obfuscation of geo location. The postal code is derived from the IP address on the exchange side through mapping provided indirectly by the cable companies. This is one field that is fundamental to local advertising and demographic targeting at the broadest (and privacy safe) level yet many bid requests come in with a truncated IP and no postal code. Some of this opacity can be attributed to laziness but most of it is strategic. Publishers may not want CTV buyers to know exactly what they are buying because what they are offering is not always the highest quality inventory. Buyers none the less must fill budgets at both ends of the inventory spectrum and are willing to spend some of their budget on murkier inventory to keep down CPMs.

Linear is expensive, broad reaching and inefficient but the buyer is explicitly getting what they paid for. Can CTV compete and challenge the Goliath? CTV can certainly complete, but can it truly replace linear TV advertising as a superior alternative, we have the tools but not quite yet. As digital marketers and publishers we must push the industry in the right direction and get CTV to live up to the expectations that digital advertising promise. We need full transparency on inventory if we have any hope in finally starting to see a meaningful shift from linear to digital TV buying. As buyers we can drive this by targeting sellers or apps that offer better transparency and as publishers, we can start to market our inventory as truly transparent. If this can be achieved the advantages of digital marketing for TV budgets is undeniable and we will have a more legitimate, mature industry to show for it. Not to mention more cash flow.

Pontiac offers fully transparent reporting and planning tools. We are happy to share every field that we see in our bid requests to make sure our clients are getting the inventory that they expect.