Gold Rush or Fool’s Gold? The Meteoric Rise of CTV Advertising

CTV advertising is a gold rush, but the industry must foster transparency, rethink the buying process, and clearly define premium content. 

CTV consumption skyrocketed in 2020, and the growth is not slowing anytime soon. CTV publishers and advertisers have mined these growing audiences like a gold mine with much success. Although not all that glitters is gold, the CTV mine stores a few pieces of fool’s gold. 

During an Advertising Week New York session, The CTV Gold Rush, moderator Tameka Kee, Deputy Managing Director, CIMM, asked the panelists to introduce themselves and then tell the audience what they felt was the fool’s gold in CTV. 

The panelists had mixed opinions, but Michelle Aragon, VP, Head of Brand Marketing & Strategy, Spectrum Reach, responded that fragmentation was fool’s gold in CTV. Other panelists, such as Mike Fisher, Executive Director, Investment Innovation GroupM, asserted that “fool’s gold is thinking that advertisers can approach CTV the same way as traditional methods.” 

Despite the pitfalls, all panelists agreed that CTV has a wealth of gold, but publishers and advertisers must understand the space fully to mine it correctly. But, how? 

Redefining Premium Content

All CTV advertisers hope to display premium content to their consumers, but what does that mean exactly? Again, the panelists had mixed opinions. Mike Fisher, a buyer, emphasized that premium is not solely for buyers to define but should be influenced by the audience that advertisers aim to reach. 

“The perception of premium varies significantly among different generations, especially in the era of influencers and content creators like Mr. Beast, who have become major players in the media landscape,” said Fisher. 

Fisher’s explanation focuses on a user-centric concept, where what the audience values determines premium content. This understanding of premium content challenges traditional definitions within CTV advertising. Premium content is no longer confined to traditional networks, as consumers seek unique and personally relevant experiences, even in user-generated content.

This user-centric approach is a game-changer, allowing for personalized and engaging advertising strategies that focus on user preferences and priorities rather than adhering to a rigid definition of premium. The nature of premium content is fluid in CTV advertising, emphasizing that what is considered premium can evolve rapidly as new trends, viral content, and changing audience preferences come into play. 

“It’s time to step away from this whole premium conversation, in my opinion,” said Oscar Rondon, SVP, Product and Partnerships MiQ. “I know this is probably a little disruptive, but we’re thinking about it in the construct of linear TV. When we move to digital, where there are millions of websites, and so many ad opportunities, I think it’s time to redefine premium to be priority content.” 

Your Business Model Determines Transparency in CTV

As the industry shifts away from traditional linear TV toward CTV, advertisers must have better transparency about what they are buying. The transition from millions to billions of dollars in CTV advertising underscores the necessity for content transparency. Clients seek a similar level of understanding they’ve had for the past 50 years with linear. Some clients still request detailed information about content, such as show scripts and episode synopsis, to ensure alignment with their expectations.

Fisher acknowledged that complete program-level transparency may only sometimes be feasible due to privacy concerns. However, the industry is creating privacy-safe and compliant proxies for show-level transparency, making direct purchases from trusted sellers or resellers a safer option, free from fraud or non-premium content.

He also highlighted that there are diverse levels of transparency in CTV advertising. Different parts of the industry offer varying levels of transparency due to their business models. 

“Roku’s unique role as both an operating system and publisher allows for a higher degree of transparency with content they own, while certain agreements with other partners may limit transparency,” said Fisher. 

In the end, all panelists agreed that the industry needs more education about transparency standards. Aragon pointed out that data ownership positions companies uniquely for the ongoing transformation, highlighting the need for marketers and agencies to drive transparency efforts and collaborate with trade organizations and coalitions. The ultimate goal is to ensure a more transparent and sustainable space for CTV.

Rethinking the Buying Process and Pricing in CTV  

There’s a prevalent notion that buyers desire premium content and audiences at non-premium CPMs, which poses a critical challenge for the industry. All panelists agreed about the need for better metrics and industry-wide understanding and suggested that standard currency measurement doesn’t adequately reflect the nuances of CTV advertising. CTV advertisers must consider various components such as attention, push vs. pull dynamics, and verified viewership. As well, measurement must adapt accordingly.

It doesn’t help that the industry creates challenges by categorizing programmatic as the “Wild Wild West,” expressed Rondon.

“Programmatic is merely a transaction mechanism, offering a range of deal types that can be customized to suit the desired relationship with publishers. Direct relationships with publishers remain essential, and upfront and scatter marketplaces persist, offering different buying modes to align with diverse inventory types and desired outcomes,” he said. 

With enhanced data, technology, and measurement tools, advertisers can strategically target different inventory types to drive various outcomes. Relationships with publishers will continue to play a pivotal role in CTV, especially given the select number of publishers with the inventory and scale to make a significant impact. Overall, the CTV buying process requires a holistic approach tailored to specific goals and outcomes. That’s how you get rid of the fool’s gold and properly mine a lucrative CTV advertising gold mine.