Why CTV Should Be Contextual, Not Connected, TV

On the heels of last week’s column predicting we are poised to see a dramatic resurgence in contextual targeting, I received a flurry of new announcements leaning back into contextual, including a new offering from Comscore and MediaMath, UM’s Primis, Integral Ad Science, and others.

As I predicted, the shift isn’t just about the deprecation of third-party browser cookies by Apple, Google, etc, but because contextual targeting ultimately may be a more wholesome, ethical and efficient means of targeting audiences than the kind of creepy, “surveillance economy” aspects that so-called behavioral targeting -- but more broadly, personal identity-based targeting -- has unleashed over the past decade or so.

While regulatory and tech firm moves may seem focused on the backlash for this, contextual is once again resurgent, because it actually works -- and it works at scale -- for many mass marketing campaigns.

Personally, I also think the return of contextual is just what content-side -- especially mainstream publishers -- need, because it elevates the role of their context, as well as their content, in the mix. Because fundamentally, with contextual targeting, people are being targeted based on the content that attracted them to the place the ads are appearing in the first place.

This elevation of contextual targeting is especially important as the TV advertising marketplace morphs into a “connected TV” marketplace, where identity-based targeting -- especially potentially even creepier versions such as ACR tracking that literally listens to what people are watching -- will become so available and tempting to use without thinking twice.

Don’t get me wrong -- I’m no Luddite, and I see a role for these identity-tracking technologies, where consumers are explicitly informed and explicitly opt in to being tracked, but has anyone reading this ever bought a Samsung or TCL TV recently and tried to read or even access their end-user license agreements about opting in or out? Good luck.

“As Connected TV becomes a core layer in our performance marketing strategy for our clients, our programmatic trading team will now be able to layer in Comscore’s proprietary advanced cookieless contextual targeting that will further ensure greater relevancy and brand safety for every impression,” Havas Edge Global Chief Digital Officer Neil Nguyen stated as part of Comscore’s announcement of a new programmatic contextual targeting tool with MediaMath. 

The tool, which uses a “frame-by-frame visual recognition and second-by-second audio processing to provide contextualization of the full content for connected TV, video and live-streaming,” isn’t a panacea for creepy identity and behavioral targeting, and I’m not naive enough to think the industry will abandon it altogether -- until if and when it is forced to.

But it provides an effective -- and in my opinion, “brand safe” -- alternative way to target people, especially as more and more of them are connected via connected TVs, smart speakers, and a wide variety of other trojan-like devices capable of tracking their identities and behaviors at their most intimate points: What they are doing in the privacy of their own homes.

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