Is User-Registration Data OTT Targeting Gold?

If you are an advertiser, you’ve heard that user registration data is the solution for cross-screen targeting. It is often held up as the standard for OTT targeting — deterministic and accurate personal information that is coming directly from the source, such as an email address.

Each device a subscriber uses to access a password-protected service is readily matched to that subscriber based on their unique credentials. 

Registered user data is the basis for campaign targeting on some of the largest ad-supported OTT apps, as well as the virtual multichannel video-programming distributors (MVPDs), and several connected device ad networks.

However, putting user registration data under a magnifying glass reveals some major flaws in its targeting capabilities: 

  • Ad-supported OTT services may request that subscribers provide authentication via email login, but most don’t require it. The majority of users skip optional sign-ins, so the result is that over time, as viewers acquire new devices or switch ISPs, the signals connecting viewing behavior with registration data degrade.
  • For ad-supported OTT services that do require user authentication, a more challenging problem looms ... one that strips registration data of its value as an identifier and turns it into pure targeting poison: password sharing.



Password sharing for gated OTT services is rampant. 

Studies show roughly one-third of premium OTT subscribers share their passwords, some with multiple households. Each household is synced to the actual subscriber’s registration data and viewing records, per eMarketer.

This is lethal from a targeting perspective. When a password is shared with your aspiring actress sister in LA, she is as likely to receive an ad for that robotic snow blower as you are, a homeowner living in the Northeast with a six-figure income. And when she does, it will show up as an in-target impression in the campaign report.

When your password is shared with your identical twin who lives next door, he or she may also be in the robotic snow-blower target, but problems persist. Each time the ad is served to your twin instead of you, the impression is associated with your household, throwing off reach/frequency, compromising retargeting or attribution efforts and denigrating true campaign performance. Marketers and even the publishers cannot accurately assess their ROI.

Device-based OTT registration data comes with limitations.

Device-based registration data is immune from the above problems because OTT devices aren’t shared across households. Device-level registration data can, therefore, be used for OTT targeting, but advertisers should be aware of the limitations of this targeting approach, which come in two forms: scale and coverage.

Scale is driven by device penetration. In the fragmented world of smart TVs and streaming media players, penetration for even the largest brands is limited. In addition, the device manufacturer does not control most of the ads streamed through it.

The data associated to one individual in a household via his/her email address often means additional insight around other consumers in the household is being missed. 

To make matters worse, some OTT device manufacturers are setting up their ad networks as walled gardens, with their own target-audience definitions, measurement standards, and technical requirements. Without interoperability across devices, OTT campaigns that rely on device registration data will struggle to achieve reach and be plagued by inconsistencies.

Coverage is an issue for device-based registration data because these campaigns only have visibility to ads served on devices made by that manufacturer. The average OTT household has three connected-TV devices representing multiple brands, not to mention an assortment of desktop and mobile screens that can also stream OTT.

In addition to compromising campaign measurement, this opens the door to overexposure, handicaps personalization efforts, and throws a monkey wrench into attribution.

When it comes to OTT targeting, leveraging a single data source, be it registered user data associated to a single app or device, advertisers will not realize the medium’s full potential.

With the new world of advertising possibilities opening up through OTT, advertisers have an opportunity that shouldn’t be limited, or else they risk the opportunity being missed. 

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