How Content Signals Are Shared in Streaming TV 

Rob Hazan, VP of product, streaming TV
Enhancing content signal transparency—including channel, genre, and show-level data—is key to scaling programmatic streaming TV. While this level of transparency is the norm in other digital channels, sharing contextual data works differently in streaming and carries additional considerations. Rob Hazan, VP of product, streaming TV at Index, breaks down how content signals are shared in streaming TV and what’s on the horizon in the channel.

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Sharing content signals in streaming TV

Media buyers are increasingly looking for more context in streaming TV, such as what channel, genre, or show they’re buying, to help them reach the right audiences in their preferred environments. 

This level of transparency is already the norm in digital channels like web and mobile app, and traditional channels like linear TV. But sharing contextual data works differently in programmatic streaming TV and carries additional considerations compared to other channels.  

Enhancing transparency is key to scaling programmatic streaming 

Marketers want clarity into the content their ads appear within—just like they already have in linear TV—so they can ensure brand suitability, targeting, and proper attribution and optimisation.  

This visibility has long been the norm in other channels. For example, in web, media buyers typically see the full URL of the webpage for every impression opportunity, as well as other signals about the seller, consumer, and device. Similar information is available in mobile, signaled through the app bundle.   

But in streaming TV, we don’t have URLs. And while we do have the app bundle, it doesn’t carry as much meaning as it might in mobile app, which makes content signals incredibly important.   

For example, consider an app like Pluto TV or Fubo. These apps offer hundreds of channels across different genres. Each channel could even have a wide mix of content. If a buyer is looking only at the bundle, they won’t necessarily know what show or episode a consumer is watching. It could span anything from news to live sports to drama.   

As a result, they might under-bid. For example, a buyer may bid $10 because they trust the app but they don’t know what actual content is being streamed. But if they knew more, and knew it was relevant to their audience, maybe they’d bid $40.  

To address these added complexities in streaming TV and provide the requisite level of transparency that buyers demand, the programmatic industry has had to engineer a different method of passing signals from media owner to buyer.  

How content signals are shared

Content signals are shared in the bid request via the content object in the IAB’s OpenRTB protocol. With version 2.6, we now have an industry standard available that defines a framework for sharing this contextual data in streaming TV.   

For any given impression opportunity, media owners can use the fields of the content object to signal the genre, livestream status, content rating, language, channel, network, and show-level data, including series name, season number and episode title, should they choose to.  

Media owners can then determine which signals they pass through to the ad exchange and then to the DSP, where the buyer can leverage them to determine whether the opportunity will help them reach their desired audience in the desired context.  

For example, a marketer could choose to run an Olive Garden ad during the “Salad and Breadsticks” episode of the Everyday Italian cooking show, making their ad for unlimited salad and breadsticks really hit home. Marketers can also ensure that their ads won’t appear in an undesirable or irrelevant context, for instance, an ad for a cruise line showing after a news segment about a tropical hurricane.   

Media owners maintain control over which signals they share. They may choose to create deals against certain signals—for example, creating a genre-specific inventory package for comedy—without disclosing the specific series names to buyers. Or they may choose to price inventory differently for different levels of transparency, from run-of-network to genre to specific series.

Fostering more content signal transparency

Now that we have the right technology and standards in place, how can we foster more signal transparency in the bidstream and reach a place where programmatic is able to effectively compete with the buying mechanics that exist in traditional linear TV?   

First, though the OpenRTB 2.6 industry standard defines how to share this contextual data, we need every platform across the supply chain to adopt it and ensure their tech stacks are updated and in order. This is underway now. Broad adoption will also unearth learnings that help evolve the protocol to best serve all parties.  

We also have some work to do as an industry to ensure we’re using consistent language. Content information isn’t normalised from one media owner to another—for example, the genre for a program may be categorised as “Food & Drink” by one seller and “Cooking” by another. Or “A+E Networks” may be signaled as “A+E Television Networks” in different instances.  

Finally, media owners will need to populate the content object to their degree of comfort. Because of the underlying commercial and inventory sharing frameworks in streaming, this may require updating their carriage agreements to pass content information through the supply chain.  

Media owners will also need to be mindful of privacy concerns and ensure that they provide the necessary information without compromising consumer privacy. For example, in the United States, they may need to adhere to regulations such as the Video Privacy Protection Act, otherwise affectionately known as the Blockbuster law, which restricts media owners from tying show-level data directly to an individual or user ID.   

Foster a transparent, trusted, and effective marketplace 

Giving buyers control over the context in which their ads will appear, either through the bidstream or through sophisticated packaging mechanics for deals, will encourage increased investment and benefit all parties throughout the supply chain.   

Marketers would be able to understand what inventory they’re buying so they could trust their ads are running within quality content and ensure an engaging, brand-suitable experience for their audience.  

Media owners would be able to better optimise yield as they could accurately value their inventory, and buyers will increasingly choose to invest with partners who provide granular targeting.   

To foster a transparent, trusted, and effective marketplace, we need stronger collaboration and discussion between media owners and buyers—it’s essential to test and improve existing standards to best serve everyone throughout the ecosystem.   

Learn more about the streaming TV opportunity. 

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