How Transparency Works in CTV

Rob Hazan, Senior Director of Product, Streaming TV
Transparency is one of the most pressing issues in streaming and connected TV (CTV) today. Index CMO Lori Goode chats with Rob Hazan, senior director of product at Index, to break down how transparency works in CTV and why it’s critical to scaling the programmatic marketplace.

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Understanding transparency in CTV

Lori Goode: Why is transparency one of the biggest challenges in scaling connected TV today?

Rob Hazan: Streaming TV and, particularly, programmatic have had explosive growth in the last few years. Now we’re starting to take a step back to address some of the existing challenges that are critical to future growth. 

There’s an incredible opportunity in streaming and connected TV to improve transparency and make sure that marketers are better informed about what they’re buying. Marketers want more clarity into the content that their streaming ads are running within—just as they’re accustomed to in linear TV—for brand suitability, targeting, proper attribution, and optimisation. 

For example, marketers may be interested in contextual data that helps them understand whether they’re buying a certain network, a certain genre, or a certain show.

Today, that data is often obfuscated. Opening up transparency is imperative to scaling programmatic

LG: This feels like a familiar problem. How is transparency in streaming TV similar to what we’ve seen in web?

RH: You’re absolutely right. If you look back to the early days of web, we have seen this before. Years ago, marquee publishers would list themselves on exchanges in some vague way, like “newssite.com.” Over time, publishers realised they needed to meet buyers’ demands to provide transparency into the true source of the inventory. 

They began to see the value in opening up to transparency and passing the publication name to buyers, because it ultimately improved monetisation and reduced opportunities for misrepresentation or fraud.  

Eventually we started to see the publisher name, then the genre of content, and then the full URL shared in every impression opportunity. Ten years ago, that didn’t exist. Today it’s the universal norm in programmatic on the web—but it was a journey getting there.

Streaming and connected TV have a very familiar version of this transparency challenge, and we expect it will follow a similar path as web in many ways. But we need to approach it with the nuances of TV in mind. 

Buyers coming from the linear TV world have certain expectations. They’re used to annual upfronts and scatter buys, and knowing the details of what they’re buying down to the show and even the episode level. So as we’ve merged digital with TV, there’s been misalignment from a technical standpoint in how buyers are used to buying and how media owners are selling their inventory.

We’ve had to engineer a different method of passing signals from media owner to buyer to provide the requisite level of transparency that buyers demand. 

LG: Right. Tell us more about exactly how transparency works in CTV.

RH: When streaming through a connected TV or smartphone, we don’t have URLs. Instead, we have app bundles, we have devices, and importantly, we have what’s called the content object. The content object is part of the IAB’s OpenRTB standard and is passed within the bid request from the media owner to the SSP to the DSP.

It includes several fields for the media owner to convey contextual information about a given impression opportunity, including:

  • Genre
  • Livestream
  • Content rating
  • Language
  • Channel
  • Network
  • Show-level data, including series name, season number, and episode title

Essentially, these signals are how media owners can describe the video stream that the viewer is consuming, and into which an ad unit will be served. That’s passed through to the ad exchange and then to the DSP, where the buyer can interpret those signals and determine whether the opportunity will help them reach their desired audience, in the desired context.

LG: Why is signal transparency key to scaling CTV? How does it unlock more spend for CTV publishers and platforms?

RH: Signal transparency provides buyers with stronger contextual relevance to better inform targeting. 

Based on the state of transparency today, a buyer might only know the app bundle that they’re buying. In CTV, the bundle doesn’t carry as much meaning as it might in mobile app for example, which makes content signals incredibly important.  

Consider an app like Pluto TV or Tubi TV. These free ad-supported TV, or FAST, 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 FAST app but they don’t know what’s being consumed. But if they knew the show and knew it was relevant to their audience, maybe they would bid $40. Buyers also don’t want ads appearing in an undesirable or irrelevant context: for instance, an ad for a cruise line showing after a news segment about a tropical hurricane.

Transparency also allows exchanges to curate supply and provide buyers with streamlined access to quality, relevant inventory. Embracing signal transparency can help media owners open up more demand, because their inventory can be better merchandised through curated deals and inventory packages.  

With more streaming platforms opening up to advertising and increased competition in the market, we’re going to need more sophisticated yield optimisation. And it starts with more transparency. 

LG: There’s a huge opportunity to give marketers what they want, which is more transparency just like in linear TV, while also developing more yield for publishers. Eventually, we’ll get to a point where we have full transparency in the CTV marketplace. What do you think is holding us up?

RH: Ultimately, we need stronger collaboration and discussion between media owners and buyers. Buyers are increasingly going to demand higher levels of transparency, and will choose to work with the media owners who provide it. 

With OpenRTB 2.6, we now have an industry standard that defines how to share this contextual data across SSPs, DSPs, and ad servers. We just need everybody to take the leap and adopt it. 

I’m confident that we’ll soon see widespread adoption of OpenRTB 2.6 and more transparent signalling from media owners, because it will directly correlate to increased revenue.

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