Reach & Message Frequency in CTV and OTT: “I Keep Seeing the Same Ads Over and Over Again.”

The OTT/CTV programmatic advertising space has grown tremendously. But not without major challenges.

There’s overwhelming fragmentation that poses great challenges for pricing and measurement. And with its high CPMs, the space is extremely prime for fraud too.

There are also challenges related to reach and frequency in the current T/V ecosystem for both consumers and advertisers as well. Here, we’ll take a look at some examples and then dive into reach and frequency analytics.

T/V Consumers Challenge #1: An Annoying Anomaly of AVOD Digital T/V Streaming , Programmatic and DAI

That awkward and confusing moment for T/V consumers when they start seeing the same ad an excessive number of times within a pod, a show, a daypart or a day. Lynne d Johnson wrote for AdMonsters in August 2019: “Since advertisers tend to purchase streaming by impressions, sometimes fulfilling commitments leads to the scenario where a viewer sees the same ad one too many times. … What’s not sold directly, is filled through an ad exchange, which is built to serve pre-roll ads more than TV ads or they’re targeting based on demographics, so the experience is not the best.” As Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) and Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI) technologies improve, this should change, but with programmatic partially feeding the proliferation of new streaming services, it may not solve the problem.

T/V Advertisers Challenge #2: Reach and Frequency Data Can’t Yet be Applied Across Media Platforms

With the recent MRC Cross-Media Measurement Standards released in September 2019, a “viewed” T/V impression is an ad with 100% of pixels in view for 2 seconds minimally, with a specific duration of time to be included after a 2021 phase-in. Measurement of unduplicated audiences across platforms and media vehicles won’t arrive until these standards are broadly adopted by providers.

The fragmentation of media options, not just for T/V, but across the different devices (e.g. personal computers, tablets, smartphones and smart TVs), content providers (CBS All Access, NBC Peacock), walled gardens (Hulu, YouTube) and aggregators (Roku, Google Chromecast) works against the broad adoption of universal measurement standards.

Advertisers desperately want ways to de-duplicate cross-platform, cross-media buys and restore their ability to analyze reach and frequency across the quintiles of larger media plans. This was echoed by Mastercard SVP, Global Media Ben Jankowski at the February 6, 2020 CIMM Cross-Platform Media Measurement & Data Summit. There he reiterated that “the goals marketers want from cross-media measurement … is to deduplicate reach of their ad campaigns across TV and all digital platforms, as well as manage frequency.” The ANA is currently conducting a Pilot Test of cross-media measurement while industry trade groups the IAB, the 4As, CIMM, 3MS, ARF, MRC and World Federation of Advertisers’ Media Committee among others are working on cross-platform measurement solutions.

A Quick Review of Reach and Frequency Analytics

The formula R(each) x F(requency) = GRPs (Gross Ratings Points) has long been key to balancing an advertising media mix so the reach of the target audience will be optimized. Through analysis of the frequency distribution, “overkill” frequency against a small portion the target reached can be avoided. By analyzing five equal quintiles of population reached, a traditional TV-only schedule might be seen delivering excessively high average frequency in the top two quintiles (defined as heavy TV viewers) underperforming in the other three.

Frequency Distribution Illustration: 500 GRP Traditional TV Plan Mock-up Targeting US Homes

Reach X Avg. Frequency = GRPs
Quintile 1 (15% total population reach): 16.9 254
Quintile 2 (15% total population reach): 11.8 177
Quintile 3 (15% total population reach): 2.8 42
Quintile 4 (15% total population reach): 1.3 19.5
Quintile 5 (15% total population reach): .5 7.5
Total Reach (75% of total population) Avg. Frequency = 6.67 Total GRPs = 500


Here, while the total plan reach of 75% of the target population with an average frequency of 6.67 might seem like acceptable overall delivery for a month, analyzing the frequency distribution shows only 2/5 or 30% of the total population is being reached at satisfactory (3+ in this case) frequency levels. A solution might involve shifting spending from a single to a two-vehicle plan and adding lighter TV viewers (via online news video pre-roll for instance) in a second media vehicle.

GRPs are defined as percent of population reached and may go over 100% since GRPs are a duplicated number used to reflect the overall weight or “pressure” of the plan. Reach is the unduplicated % of a population that is reached, exposed to the ad at least once.

Part 2 of this series on reach and frequency management will address additional challenges and solutions that marketers and their agencies are facing and creating to resurrect this powerful planning and measurement tool globally.