Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Beyond the Wild West: Why transparency is key to sustain CTV ad spend

By Tanzil Bukhari, Managing Director, EMEA at DoubleVerify

Connected TV (CTV) viewership has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. From parents subscribing to Disney+ to keep their kids entertained, to couples catching up on their favourite shows on All 4, there’s hunger for content. 

In March CTV usage totalled 2.7 billion hours, rising by nearly 50 percent in the weeks that followed. Despite lock-down restrictions loosening, demand remains high, with time spent on CTV devices e.g., smart TVs, games consoles and set top boxes up by 81 percent year on year, according to Nielsen. 

COVID-19 has opened the floodgates to CTV content, and soon enough, it will be the default way most people watch long-form video. In response to this surge, advertisers are rightly shifting spend to reach the captive audience that CTV commands. 

But similar to when the internet first took off in the 1990s, CTV is the new Wild West. CTV’s lack of transparency, identification standards and viewability measurement makes it fertile ground for fraud, and a challenging environment to target consumers effectively and safely.

By understanding more about the risks of this young market, and taking learnings from the challenges of the digital industry to date, we can arm advertisers with the insight and technology they need to navigate this dynamic medium successfully.

So how do we move forward?

Reduce fragmentation, improve transparency and implement standards 

The explosion in CTV user growth has meant regulatory bodies are struggling to keep up. 

With OTT app developers, hardware manufacturers and publishers eager to meet consumer demand, they haven’t had time to proactively coordinate on standardisation. This has fuelled fragmentation across CTV that must be tackled. 

Manufacturers, app developers and SSPs are all generating their own CTV app IDs—this lack of uniformity makes precision-tracking a particularly complex puzzle. Each app can have five or more different IDs, meaning CTV advertisers are unable to get the crucial visibility they need on where, and when, their ads are running. 

Elements of the buying process are similarly muddied even across a single publisher.  For example, many are serving ads into CTV apps with different user agents depending on which platform their app is on (for example, a Fire Stick or a Roku TV). This means even measuring the same ad, from the same brand, on the same publisher’s app can become a highly fragmented process across different platforms.

This growing complexity and confusion needs to be addressed and not only for marketers. As an emerging channel, it’s important that CTV can prove its value. Promising user numbers can only carry it so far. 

For sustained ad investment in digital media, history shows us that marketers and publishers need transparent, accurate data to justify their budget. The same is true of CTV—particularly at a time when those budgets are under significant pressure.

We need to be clear on risks like ad fraud in order to tackle them head on 

To date, there isn’t a single source of truth for CTV ad performance. Benchmarking is challenging across such a diverse environment. And while we know that CTV is a high-growth channel, insights beyond this are murky. 

Our recent findings have detected a 161% increase year-over-year in fraudulent CTV traffic. Given the lack of solutions to tackle this, combined with skyrocketing viewership making CTV a prime target for criminal activity, today’s fraud figures may be even higher.

Propelled by the fragmented, unregulated and unstandardised market, fraudsters have several means by which to illegitimately siphon ad spend. 

Most frequently devices, or apps, can be configured to generate fake viewership or ad impressions at scale. SSAI (Server Side Ad Insertion) is a common way CTV ads are delivered. Similar to linear TV, it stitches content and ads together into one video stream, offering benefits over non-SSAI whereby ad content is played through a different stream which introduces latency and buffering on the viewer’s device . SSAI is fast and seamless for users but it comes with risks. Fraudsters can create servers or buy cloud space to falsify all impression information and generate fake traffic. Our own research detects over 500,000 fraudulent CTV devices every single day. 

Criminals can also misrepresent lower-value audiences as high-value. So, advertisers with a UK-exclusive product may think their ads are reaching a British audience but instead the ads are being shown to people in another part of the world. 

This all stems from the fact that brands simply haven’t had the transparency they need to advertise effectively and safely through CTV. 

Technology is the industry’s biggest ally

Thankfully, steps are being made to create a transparent CTV environment that works harder for advertisers, publishers, developers, manufacturers and consumers alike. 

The IAB recently debuted guidelines to standardise naming conventions across CTV platforms. Stakeholders at every level should embrace these. However, change doesn’t happen overnight. 

As this market matures—accelerated by the current uptick in user numbers—we have to do more as an industry to create the clarity and confidence in digital ad investment that advertisers need—no matter the platform, channel or format. 

Technology has a central role in doing this. New solutions can map app names across platforms and devices, normalising and tagging them to IAB standards. In doing so, CTV advertisers can get the consistent evaluation, and the clear data they need to track campaign quality and performance across all major CTV devices and identify bad-actors. 

Through a combination of technology, guidelines and certification programmes for CTV—which can protect advertisers from fraud—the industry can take CTV beyond its Wild West phase and unlock its potential as a powerful new tool for marketers.