Taking Connected TV Data from Academic to Action

"On TV And Video" is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Lindsey Harju, co-founder at Blinc Digital Group.

We love the constant barrage of headline-grabbing figures about cord cutters and connected TV, but most of the information we are devouring is really just academic.

Sure, academic data can be interesting and can lay a foundation for future decision making, but real-world application isn’t the highest priority. And that is where I become frustrated. The numbers fall apart when I attempt to take them from that academic environment and turn them into action.

EMarketer updated its projections for cord cutters this summer, increasing its 2018 estimates made last year by nearly 11%. But what exactly does that mean for marketers? That they should invest in alternative paths to get video in front of their most important audiences? Absolutely. That by waiting for the market to evolve further, they will be left in the dust by the competition? You bet.

What is missing is the “how.” Academic projections are great, but I need more data from the industry to make decisions.

Incomplete data

In the more established digital space, everyone knows which platforms have the greatest volume of visitors. And because the ecosystem has evolved so much, marketers have numerous options for finding the best way to access data-driven inventory.

The connected TV market is on the rise, but the integrations that would provide easy access to high quality inventory in front of data-defined audiences just aren’t there yet. That leaves marketers in uncharted territory. They know that they need to go after connected TV inventory, but how, and from whom?

The stats add to the confusion. It’s true that pay TV is down, and marketers need to learn how to shift dollars to alternate screens. Unfortunately, two of the largest OTT players included in the cord-cutting figures are Netflix and Amazon, giants that are not ad supported. And the Amazon Prime figures include all members, not only those who watch video content.

There is occasional chatter suggesting ad-supported formats could arrive one day, but for now, one of the largest streaming providers makes money from subscriptions and another from “selling shoes.” Even moving down the list to current ad-supported services, the numbers cannot be taken at face value, as nearly half of Hulu’s accounts are premium and ad-free.

Connected TV supplier complexity

The next layer of complexity comes from the variety of provider types enabling connected TV ads. Although the space is still new, plenty of players have propped up products with connected TV services. Marketers could seek inventory from TV programmers (such as CBS), streaming providers (such as Hulu), demand-side platforms (such as The Trade Desk), connected TV devices (such as Roku) or even TV manufacturers like Samsung.

Trying to compare currently available figures from all these inventory sources is like comparing apples and oranges, hot dogs and face cream. They each have distinctly different business models that make even high-level analysis messy and incomplete. If a media buyer tries to determine which suppliers are worth testing, the numbers available on unique visitors or time spent viewing content often combine connected TV volumes with other capabilities, such as linear viewing, digital video or views completed by users enjoying an ad-free experience.

So, the question still remains: How can a marketer determine who has high-value audiences and quantity to scale?

Data for what’s being sold

As with any new industry, it can be smart to partner with someone more seasoned, like an agency experienced in advanced TV tactics. The role of agencies and the value they bring in this programmatic world is up for discussion in many circles. But while the fragmented connected TV space is still forming, a good partner can help identify sources for inventory and navigate how to assign value to each pair of eyeballs.

That’s really what I am craving: information on who has the inventory that advertisers need.

Deep down, I don’t really care about volume of accounts, how much OTT players are investing in original programming or the percentage of lift in advertisers trying connected TV with technology platforms. That was fun cocktail party conversation a year or two ago, but now real dollars need to be spent.

I want to know how many unique individuals are viewing content and how much time they are spending. But here is the key: I only want the numbers on what is for sale. I am tired of presentations updating me on the global changes in consumer media consumption; tell me more about what you have available to sell. It’s like watching a never-ending fashion show, when I am ready for the designers to tell me if they carry my size in another color.

Sales meetings are just the beginning. If industry publications want to provide value and educate us on how connected TV is changing advertising, they should not include misleading figures that contain data from ad-free experiences. This is one step in the right direction – moving away from academic and closer to actionable.

Vendors engaging in this market are smart. Connected TV is a premium, lean-back form of advertising that is growing each day. Advertisers are engaging and ready to spend big. To graduate to the next level, connected TV sellers need to stop celebrating complexity as if it were a badge of honor. Tell buyers how many ads we can purchase for the audiences we care about. It’s not that complicated.

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