The State of OTT
Gone are the days when Americans only had network and cable channels to choose from when deciding what to watch. Today, anyone with an internet connection can access over-the-top, or OTT, content—and the shift is leading to major changes in the television and advertising industries.
U.S. cable and satellite TV providers lost 25 million subscribers within the last decade. Projections suggest they’ll lose 25 million more subscribers in the next three years. But cord-cutters aren’t completely abandoning live tv. Instead, they’re subscribing to a digital live tv streaming service (or multiple services) like YouTube TV or Sling, which had 4 million and 2.29 million subscribers, respectively, in Q4 of 2021.1
Where and how people watch tv has changed. 58% of respondents reported watching streaming TV on a connected TV or smart TV—consumers also watch streaming video on computers (52%), mobile devices (43%), tablets (34%) and video game consoles (12%).2 The mobility of many of these devices means viewers are no longer tethered to the TV room. Today’s viewers can access OTT content (and thus, OTT advertising) virtually anywhere.
The amount of time people spend consuming streaming tv is also increasing. In 2021 alone, Americans streamed almost 15 million years of content and set a new record for the most content watched in one month. By the end of 2021, the average adult was watching 4 hours and 49 minutes of TV each day.3
Clearly, viewers are enjoying video content in very different ways than they did a generation ago.
A Changing Industry
Due to consumer demand, mergers and acquisitions, and expanding products and services, the media and technology landscape of OTT has also changed.
For consumers and advertisers alike, choices abound—and that’s not always a good thing. The average U.S. household subscribes to 4.7 streaming services.4 In early 2022, viewers in the U.S. could choose from 817,000 unique program titles across traditional TV and streaming services.3 For consumers, that abundance can make choosing what to watch difficult. For advertisers without a strong OTT strategy, it can make reaching your target audience a daunting and difficult task.
As new streaming services pop up, content is becoming more fragmented and the availability of content shifts. Ad supply (and access to it) is constantly changing. The result: advertisers and agencies struggle to keep up.
Important terms to know for OTT advertising
The devices and technology delivering the over-the-top video content are what’s known as the OTT platforms. Common platforms include Xbox, Roku, Apple TV, Xbox and Amazon’s Fire TV.
Publishers are the companies that sell ad space for their over-the-top content, like Sling, Hulu and Paramount Plus.
Over-the-top (OTT) is video content delivered via the internet and can be viewed across various devices, without requiring a traditional cable or satellite service.
CTV, or connected TV, includes any televisions used to stream video. Connected TV as a category can include both smart TVs and non-smart TVs that use a device to connect to the internet.
The opposite of streaming TV, linear TV is TV programming that’s broadcast at a specific time.
SVOD stands for subscription video on demand. It includes streaming video services that are purchased by viewers on a subscription basis. Subscriptions are either ad free or hybrid offerings that include ads, typically at a reduced cost. Well-known examples include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max and Disney Plus.
TVOD, or transactional video on demand, is over-the-top content purchased on pay-per-view basis, like renting a movie on Apple iTunes or Amazon Video.
AVOD, or advertising-based video on demand, is over-the-top content that is free to watch, but comes with commercials. Ad-supported streaming video includes YouTube and some Hulu plans.
MVPDs and vMVPDs
Companies that provide live and on-demand linear television are what’s known as multichannel video programming distributors, or MVPDs. Popular MVPDs include Comcast and Charter. Companies that deliver that content over the internet are virtual MVPDs, or vMPVDs, and include Sling and Hulu Live.
Supply Side Platform (SSP)
A technology platform used by publishers to manage and sell their digital ad inventory.
Demand Side Platform (DSP)
A technology platform used by advertisers and agencies to access and buy digital ad inventory from Supply Side Platforms (SSP).
The OTT and CTV Ecosystem
In the past, OTT advertisers considered ad supply primarily through a contextual lens. Ad space was purchased relative to specific content and dayparts. For example, an advertiser using contextual targeting as part of their strategy might purchase ad supply for a specific show airing on HGTV on Saturday mornings.
Programmatic advertising has changed this. Today, buying OTT ad space is less about trying to predict what a target audience watches and when, and more about reaching them wherever they are. For example, an advertiser trying to reach sports fans might purchase ad space during live sporting events. It’s not a bad strategy, but it leaves opportunities on the table. Today, through programmatic OTT advertising, those same sports fans can be reached no matter what they’re watching or when.
Navigating a complex and rapidly changing ecosystem is a challenge for advertisers. Understanding the OTT landscape can help advertisers make more informed media buying decisions.
Strategy and Buying Process for OTT Ads
Purchasing OTT advertising space can be incredibly complex. The same Ad supply can sometimes be available to purchase through multiple avenues. But how advertisers choose to access the supply can greatly influence the time and labor intensity, audience reach and more. Advertisers must understand each option’s benefits and drawbacks to best align with their goals and intentions.
When planning an OTT media buy, Advertisers should account for specific campaign requirements around scale, audience targeting, and supply while considering level of effort to manage and unify cross-platform media plans.
Advertisers have two main options when deciding how to buy OTT advertising space. The first is by going directly to the publisher or platform to purchase from their available supply. Sometimes called closed platform, platform direct or dedicated, direct purchasing can include several key benefits.
For contextual buying, direct purchasing can sometimes be the only way to place ads next to specific content. Hulu, for example, offers exclusivity to some of its content that cannot be found on other OTT platforms. In addition to supply exclusivity, audience exclusivity can be a benefit when buying direct. The audiences watching content on Hulu might not be accessible through other streaming services. Both of these factors lead to advertisers having more control over specific supply and reach.
This strategy does come with a trade off. Purchasing ad space directly from a publisher or platform can decrease scale and how many viewers a brand is able to reach. It can also increase the time, complexity and cost to implement a holistic media plan.
The other option for purchasing OTT advertising space is known as open purchasing. This approach to media buying utilizes marketplaces and exchanges offering access to a wide variety of video content from a broad spectrum of publishers and distributors. Audience targeting options also benefit from variety in an open ecosystem. Diverse access to supply and abundant options in audience targeting make open purchasing an efficient way to deliver an OTT ad buy.
Another advantage of open purchasing is agility. Should the need to quickly change budgets arise, it’s much easier to make the changes in one place versus needing to open several disparate tools to implement adjustments. Open purchasing can achieve quality scale using fewer tools and processes allowing Media Buyers to efficiently manage complex media plans.
Finally, open purchasing platforms typically offer a greater variety of measurement solutions than direct purchasing, as measurement of those ads is limited to the tools integrated with the platform. Having access to different measurement solutions can make it easier for advertisers to unify their cross-channel media plan.
Delivery and Performance: Measurement and KPIs
OTT advertising promises advanced measurement capabilities over traditional linear tv. A wide range of delivery and attribution metrics can be captured allowing for greater understanding of return on ad spend (ROAS).
When CTV is key to your OTT advertising strategy, it is important to take audience attribution level into account. Many attribution solutions with cross-device identity capabilities can attribute impressions at the device level or the person level. Most Connected TV devices do not deliver device level tracking information, requiring advertisers to attribute impressions at the household level.
Whether your goals are focused on conversion performance or reach and awareness, it is key to align the right KPIs with your campaign objectives. The wrong KPIs can not only be distracting, they can be counter-productive. Below are some metrics that can help guide you.
Audience, time/day, geography, creative, device, environment and supply are all important delivery metrics to track. In addition to clarifying the role of OTT ads within an omni-channel marketing strategy, these metrics can also provide insights around a brand’s audiences and their behavior.
For example, an agency might execute an open market buy with a relatively broad audience and supply—showing ads to a target audience on any device, any time or day, and across numerous platforms. The data around how those ads were seen tells the agency how, where and when the audience consumes tv content, which can inform future purchasing and targeting decisions and improve outcomes.
View through conversion measurement can be leveraged with OTT advertising much in the same way it is used with other digital media types. Underlying technologies may differ within the OTT and CTV ecosystem but the principle use is the same. Both online and offline conversion metrics can be attributed to OTT advertising but features and capabilities can vary depending on the buying platform. Some buying platforms may implement integrated conversion attribution solutions while some platforms may allow for third-party measurement integrations. If view through conversion metrics are critical, check to see if the required capabilities are available in your OTT advertising tech stack.
Reach & Frequency
When it is important to maximize audience reach you can utilize metrics like Gross Rating Point (GRP) and On-Target Percentage (OTP) but those measurements are only applicable with very broad demographic-based audiences. With greater audience specificity, it is important to account for audience architecture with frequency capping controls. Advertisers can then look to metrics like impressions by audience, and unique device/person/household reach to understand how their media spend is reaching the intended audiences. Some OTT campaigns can also measure incremental reach, a metric that deduplicates audiences—audiences that have been targeted through both OTT and traditional tv advertising.
In some cases, serving OTT ads to audiences too frequently can lead to ad fatigue. And that’s doubly true with the rise of bingeing content. However, high frequency can also be a strategy for building brand recognition and lifting brand recall. Impressions frequency can be attributed to a specific time span such as weekly, daily or even hourly. Managing and monitoring frequency capping can ensure the advertiser’s frequency goals are achieved.
Video Completion Rate
Video complete rates in OTT advertising typically hover between 90-100%, often because the platforms have non-skippable ads. However, on platforms that support skippable ads, monitoring video completion rate can indicate whether the creative or audience targeting needs to be revisited.
Partnering with Media Buying Professionals
Navigating supply and managing ad purchasing is a full-time job for many agencies and brands—and to avoid wasted spend, needs to be done with strategy and precision. While they could certainly benefit from the numerous advantages of OTT advertising, many companies simply don’t have the bandwidth or resources to give their OTT campaigns the attention they deserve. Put simply, the complexities of managing OTT budgets and optimizing for performance warrant the need for an expert.
When evaluating potential media buying partners, transparency is key. A partner that’s tied to one platform or tool will be incentivized (sometimes financially) to control media distribution in a way that’s detrimental to the advertiser and their goals. Instead, look for a company that is platform- or solution-agnostic and will align their strategies and tactics with your company’s unique goals.
Beyond transparency, flexibility, customization and the right reporting capabilities are all important. The right media buying company will be a true partner, with a deep understanding of OTT inventory and buying processes as well as the advertisers’ needs and goals.