Streaming TV Scale Depends on Content Signal Transparency

The lack of content signal transparency in streaming and connected TV (CTV) has become a major concern for media buyers. Buyers want more visibility into contextual information, such as what channel, genre, or show they’re buying, to make more informed media decisions. That information isn’t always available in streaming today.  

This level of transparency is already the norm in digital channels like web and mobile app, as well as traditional channels like linear TV. Buyers expect the same in streaming TV. However, it’s important to remember that even with the exponential growth in streaming, the market is still somewhat nascent. Industry standards and protocols are still being written and adopted. 

It will take time to reach a state of full transparency in streaming TV,  just as it did in web and app. The good news is that we already have the tools in place. Now it’s time to take the lessons learned from the journey in web and accelerate the path toward content signal transparency in streaming TV. And that’s going to require collaboration across the market. 

Improving content signal transparency benefits the entire industry

There’s an incredible opportunity in streaming TV to improve transparency and make sure that marketers are better informed about what they’re buying. This will encourage increased investment in streaming TV and benefit all parties throughout the supply chain. Here’s how:  

  • Trust in the marketplace: Marketers want to know that they’re serving ads within the quality streaming TV content that they’re used to buying from an upfront or traditional standpoint. Content signals help media owners accurately portray their content so brands and agencies can understand the inventory they’re buying. 
  • Contextual targeting: Visibility into genre, TV rating, language, livestream, and show-level information provides media buyers with more control over contextually relevant placements. They can better inform targeting to ensure an engaging, brand suitable experience for their audience by serving ads within the right content, at the right time, and in the right language.
  • Maximized reach and controlled frequency: As improved transparency helps buyers understand the content their ads are running within, they can maximize extended reach, and buy only where they don’t already have upfront or other commitments. 
  • Yield optimization: Media owners also benefit, as sharing content signals allows buyers to better determine whether a given opportunity will help them reach their desired audience, in the desired context. Buyers will see better results and efficiency gains, and they’ll continue to choose to invest with partners who provide transparency. 

Reaching full transparency is a journey

Of course, increasing transparency in streaming TV comes with its own set of technical and commercial challenges. While buyers are eager for CTV publishers and platforms to share more contextual information, they must also recognize that there are many steps on that journey. 

Content signals are shared in the bid request via the content object in the IAB’s OpenRTB protocol. With the new version, OpenRTB 2.6, we now have an industry standard that defines a framework for sharing this contextual data in streaming TV. While we’re beginning to see traction across the industry, we still need media owners, DSPs, and technology vendors to adopt and implement it.  

To pass the content information through the supply chain, media owners, device manufacturers, and other content distributors need their full tech stack in order. Because of the underlying commercial and inventory sharing frameworks in streaming, device manufacturers and content distributors may need to update their carriage agreements.

The industry as a whole also will need to agree on standardized values for the content object. Today, while we have the framework, the information isn’t always normalized from one media owner to another—for example, the genre for the same game may be categorized as “sports” or “sports – basketball” in different instances.   

Finally, everyone must be mindful of privacy concerns and ensure that they provide the necessary information without compromising consumer privacy.

We encourage our customers and partners to start small. Begin with one or two top-level signals, then build from there to support more granular information such as series name or episode title.

Collaboration is key to improving transparency and scaling streaming TV

Recognizing the groundwork required to improve transparency, media buyers can help drive progress by proactively communicating with their supply-side partners about what exactly they’re looking to achieve by receiving additional content signals. 

For example, is it finding incremental reach beyond upfront or scatter buys, or improving frequency and reducing duplication across upfront buys? Working across the industry to create a shared understanding of desired outcomes can help prioritize and set a path forward. 

Collaboration is also essential to test and improve existing standards to best serve all parties. Industry protocols are meant to evolve, but updates require learnings that can only come from adoption.

As more media owners, buyers, and ad tech platforms start to use the content object for streaming TV, we can all start to understand the gaps in between linear and streaming TV, and ensure industry bodies like the IAB Tech Lab have the right inputs to help solve industry-wide challenges. 

Transparency is the foundation of a trusted, effective marketplace, and it’s one of the key challenges facing our industry today. It’s going to take everyone coming together to attract more spend and scale the streaming TV ecosystem.

Curious about how transparency works in streaming and connected TV? Tune in to our new educational video series on streaming TV to find out. 

Sarah Botherway

Sarah Botherway

Commercial strategy director

Sarah Botherway is a commercial strategies director at Index Exchange, where she's responsible for developing, supporting, and standardizing commercial strategy globally. She is a keen advocate for awareness and challenging the stereotypes and misconceptions revolving around neurodiversity. When not working, Sarah loves to travel and explore different cultures.

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