NCS On OTT Metrics Misperceptions, Growing Opportunities

In last week’s Advanced TV Insider, I noted the increasing number of solutions for near-real-time attribution of OTT/CTV campaigns, including actual sales outcomes.

Continuing the metrics theme, this column features an interview with Thomas Eaton, SVP of TV and programmatic solutions at NCSolutions (NCS).

NCS, formerly known as Nielsen Catalina Solutions, provides purchase-based ad targeting and return on advertising spend (ROAS) measurement for CPG brands. And it’s been tracking campaign sales outcomes for brands on some of the largest streaming platforms in the market for several years now.

As has been well documented, the last couple of months’ shelter-at-home scenario has accelerated OTT’s already healthy growth trend. Nielsen’s just-released latest streaming update again shows that total streaming minutes are at more than double the levels of the comparable year-ago period.



Still, at least to date, marketers — often citing audience reach and measurement issues — have been reluctant to commit advertising dollars proportional to the platform’s growth.

Eaton maintains that the hesitation is in large part based on misconceptions. 

Given that there are a still-small but growing number of options for measuring sales lift for OTT campaigns — and moving product is of course the ultimate goal for all brands — why aren’t these metrics more widely used? 

Eaton: Yes, sales metrics are available; they’re just overlooked. One big reason is that brands have been trying to use traditional TV metrics like reach and brand effectiveness for OTT. Brands tend to be hesitant to experiment with any newly popular medium at first, because they’re unsure of how to measure it and what kind of return it will deliver. 

But it’s not that OTT is less measurable; it’s that OTT uses different metrics. In fact, many of the disruptive D2C brands were early adopters of OTT for the very reason that it’s so measurable. 

Now, if you want to make OTT measurable the way that TV is measurable, then yes, it’s a little difficult. Much like digital, there isn’t a universally accepted standard of measurement for OTT. And many of the major streaming platforms — Hulu, Roku, Amazon Prime Video — exist in publisher-controlled, walled-garden environments that you have to measure individually. 

But OTT can also be more granular than traditional TV in some ways. For instance, if you run a TV campaign and want to know how it affected brand perception, you’re going to conduct a brand lift study. But completing that and getting results will take weeks, if not months. With OTT, the campaign is tied to a unique identifier for each viewer. You can retarget them within a matter of days.  

Anotherreasonfor hesitance in adopting sales metrics is that, frankly, it’s a lot cheaper and easier to measure reach or brand lift. Sales lift studies are more complex — it’s a more involved process. But the results are often more meaningful. Once CPG brands experience success with using sales outcomes to measure advertising, they become big believers. 

Can sales metrics be integrated with more traditional audience metrics and insights? 

Eaton: Yes, we have clients already doing that. Brands can incorporate anything else from their data mix, depending on how sophisticated their internal data operation is. 

If we can’t measure OTT the way we measure traditional TV, can we expect brands’ OTT spend to start eating into TV budgets? 

Eaton: That’s a common misperception. It isn’t an either-or proposition. OTT and TV campaigns should work in conjunction with and complement each other. TV is still a strong reach vehicle, and the anchor for most CPG media buys, despite the growth of OTT. But with OTT, you’re reaching an audience you can’t find on TV — cord-cutters and cord-nevers. 

What would make brands more comfortable with buying OTT? 

Eaton: Being as transparent as possible about the measurement process. Data, and the ability to more accurately measure outcomes, has made marketers increasingly cautious about where they spend their money. They’re not going to invest in OTT just because it’s popular. They need to justify every dollar they spend. We’re very open about our methodology because we want to establish trust in this new and growing medium. And one of the best ways to build trust is to show that OTT has a tangible effect on sales. 

Do brand marketers still think that sales metrics are only relevant for direct response brands? 

Eaton: I don’t think brands really think that way. We see CPG brands devoting substantial budgets to measuring TV — and those aren’t DR budgets, they’re national TV budgets. 

But I do thinkthat major CPG brands are discovering the measurability advantages of OTT for their D2C offerings. 

Most advertisers are reducing ad spend amid the pandemic’s dramatic impacts on consumers’ financial circumstances and buying behaviors — even though media consumption is at nearly unprecedented levels. What does this mean for OTT spending now, and when things start to return to normal, or a new normal? 

Eaton: With OTT consumption increasing dramatically during the COVID-19 crisis, brands are seeing this as an opportunity to spend more on OTT. So the gap between how much consumers watch OTT and how much brands spend on the medium is narrowing more quickly. But traditional TV consumption has also increased. So again, I don’t see TV being in jeopardy. 

For the most part, brands are piloting OTT at this stage. I think the data will show them that OTT works, and they’ll continue to invest in it in the future. 

Also, OTT is going to be more of a buyer’s market going forward,  as NBC’s Peacock and other streaming platforms with ad-supported tiers come into the market. Increased ad inventory will present a good opportunity for brands to test out OTT. 

Some CPG brands have seen their sales increase during the shelter-at-home period. Will they be able to sustain their market-share gains? 

Eaton: That depends on how effectively they advertise in the coming weeks. This is a time for dominant brands to defend consumer loyalty if their brands were out of stock during “extreme buying.” It’s also a time for secondary brands to reach out to consumers who “sampled” their brands, due to necessity, during the shortages. 

One big brand we work with has seen an increase in market share that’s potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars to them, and they’re spending heavily on media to make sure they hold onto those new customers. 

In addition, every marketer should make sure their creative is appropriate to the situation we’re in, as well as to their own brand’s objectives and circumstances. There are brands that have sold so much product in the past few weeks that they don’t have a presence on the shelf at the moment, and some of these are pivoting to PSA-style ads to build brand equity. 

What’s your take on how likely consumers are to revert to pre-pandemic behaviors once adults can return to work (or try to) and kids go back to school? 

Eaton: There will be long-lasting changes, absolutely. We’re anticipating a new normal in terms of purchase behavior. What that new normal will be remains to be seen. It is too early.

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