Unless you’ve lived completely off the grid for the past year, it likely comes as no surprise that OTT streaming video consumption has skyrocketed since the pandemic hit. With COVID-related lockdowns keeping folks at home, streaming content accounted for 25% of total TV viewing time, up from just 19% in “the before times” of Q4 2019. Not only did the total amount of streaming time increase, but cumulative time spent watching streaming video in Q2 2020 surged to 142.5 billion minutes a week—a 75% jump from the same time the previous year.

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With such a major shift in audience behavior, it’s no wonder that 60% of advertisers are planning to shift their ad spend from traditional linear TV to OTT or CTV. This is a watershed moment for the industry. In the past, even as OTT spending grew, it did so without directly cutting into traditional TV spending—advertisers simply added to their budgets to reach the streaming audience. But now, the tables have turned, with OTT taking a slice from linear TV’s share of the pie. 

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But it’s not only the growing share of audience that makes OTT so attractive to brands. Over 80% of marketers say that the better ad targeting and greater attribution are key reasons for the shift, with OTT allowing them to more easily reach more precise audiences and measure return on ad spend.  

While that is true—OTT can provide more granular targeting and more detailed consumer data, even allowing marketers to tailor their commercials for specific people—that capability doesn’t come easily without the right set of tools. In order to make the most of the OTT promise and produce better insights and greater ROI, advertisers must be aware of some of the technical challenges and keep an eye out for solutions to help address them. Here are the key trends to watch and how advertisers can adapt.

  1. Traffic accountability. One of the hurdles around OTT advertising is the fact that it can be extremely hard to validate audience traffic. Are humans actually seeing those ads? Or are they being played in device banks designed to defraud advertisers? In order for OTT to truly take off and prove the value of the medium, verification tools must be able to legitimize the traffic for marketers. While OTT allows for greater targeting capabilities than traditional TV, there is still ample room for improvement when it comes to verifying that the inventory being purchased is actually being watched by a legitimate audience.
  1. Content viewability. Viewability has been one of the standard key performance metrics for justifying ad spend in OTT. But exactly what constitutes a view, and how do we know that viewers actually see the ads intended for them? Maybe they head to the fridge for a snack. Or maybe the ad was targeted to mom, but it’s actually seen by her son who’s watching on her account. For now, it’s mostly a pass/fail system: content is either viewable, or it’s not. In 2019, the Media Ratings Council proposed a standard for video ads, stating that 50% of content must be in view for at least two seconds, but this still doesn’t tell us who’s watching or for how long. Advertisers need more granular analytics in order to better understand viewability metrics, and how a viewed ad plays a role in the overall sales funnel by tracking post-view behaviors. This would allow advertisers to access deeper insights for their OTT campaigns, provide a better understanding of who exactly is watching their ads, and the impact of their messaging.
  1. Industry acquisition. Even before the pandemic hit, media publishers had gone on a bit of a buying frenzy, acquiring their own Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) to simplify the ad buying process and cut out the middleman. Whether this trend will continue as OTT grows is still TBD, but if so, it really just introduces another walled garden scenario, making it harder for advertisers to insert their content. While it may create a seemingly easy transaction when it comes to selling publishers’ available inventory, we need independent networks to keep the medium much more accessible.
  1. Transparency. One of the biggest risks for advertisers in OTT is the fact that so much of it is shrouded in mystery. With issues around attribution, accountability, viewership, and whether the data can be trusted, it’s hard for brands to know if they’re really getting a solid ROI. And as OTT grows in size and scope, inventory has become a commodity with providers lowballing prices just to get brands on board. With an attitude that cheaper is better, brands are naturally drawn to the low-price options. The problem is that also means they have no one in their corner—no experts working on their behalf to monitor invalid traffic and to make sure they’re getting the best quality. 

Instead, in order to improve the relationship between advertisers and ad tech vendors, we need to create real partnerships between the two parties who both believe in the importance of transparency across the market. This can also give brands access to better consultancy and best practices, and in turn, greater support for their business objectives. As they say, you get what you pay for, and with an opportunity this big, going for the cheapest option may come back to haunt you in short order.

Fortunately, new solutions are increasingly available to help resolve some of these issues and give brands the tracking and insights they need to capitalize on the booming OTT opportunity. With full OTT attribution available, brands can use this information to better understand their audience behaviors and even integrate with the sales funnel to track OTT/CTV viewers as they interact with their websites, landing pages, and even physical store locations. 

Unlike before, brands can now see in real time whether one publisher is driving more leads than another, if it’s hitting the right target audience, and even make optimizations on the fly to shift budgets towards over-performing variables in order to focus on the right audiences, geographic locations, and dayparts that drive actions, not just views. Even better, these independent platforms can be used across all major OTT platforms, which not only provides access to data even the platforms themselves don’t provide, but also does so with a single platform and dashboard view. This makes the job of tracking, managing, and optimizing campaigns much easier and more efficient, with all the metrics you need across all platforms visible in one place.

As the possibilities behind OTT targeting and measurement continue to take off, brands need the right tools and experts on their side to tap into the insights and strategies that can help them make the most of the outlet. Working with a partner that can help navigate the space delivers a much better OTT/CTV experience and increased ROI.

About the Author: Mike Seiman is the CEO & Chairman of Digital Remedy, a digital media solutions company leading the tech enabled marketing space he co-founded while still a college student at Hofstra University in the early 2000s. The company has grown quickly and is now a major player within the crowded digital advertising landscape. The rapid growth of Digital Remedy, formerly CPXi led to its inclusion on Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest growing privately held advertising/marketing companies in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2014. Mike was selected as a semi-finalist in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year initiative in 2010 and 2013 and as a finalist in 2009 and 2014. In his free time, Mike serves on the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Hofstra University. He also focuses on numerous philanthropic initiatives including sitting on the boards of the H.E.S. (Hebrew Educational Society non-profit community center) and Children International, where he spearheaded the development of community centers in both Guayaquil, Ecuador in 2010 and Barranquilla, Colombia in 2014.