I’m worried about the frothy, intersecting world of connected TV and ad tech, and I’m not typically the worrying kind. For sure, this is a very good time for CTV advertising and the technology that powers it.
CTV budgets are up. Wall Street loves CTV. And media companies are investing heavily to grow ad-supported streaming services.
Why worry? CTV’s promise of bringing together the best of digital ad targeting and measurement with premium, high-engagement TV content on 60-inch screens is very compelling. All those positive trends are certainly well justified.
I’m worried because I have seen this movie before, and our industry’s track record in similar situations is not great. Let’s just think back to the banner craziness of 1999 and 2000, the ad networks of the early aughts, the boom of behavioral targeting, and the craze of RTB and programmatic.
There were many great companies in each of these generational cohorts, but there were also a lot of pretenders. Who can forget the “round-trips” of the early banner companies, the ad networks selling pop-unders as premium content, and animated banners as digital video? Then there were the targeting companies stuffing our computers with spyware, or data-targeting platforms conflating “match rates” with audience data accuracy.
The digital ad-tech industry was built almost 30 years ago on the vision of eventually controlling the living room and its centerpiece, the television. The long-sought prey is now finally in its claws, but I worry about how well the ad-tech predators will treat those whose destinies will fall under their influence and control: the advertisers who fund the ecosystem and, most importantly, the viewers who must endure the ads.
Now, more than ever, as ad tech invades the world’s living rooms and media screens of choice, it needs to clean up what it does poorly. Specifically, this is the time when our industry must redouble its efforts around our core consumer value proposition, our transparency and our ethics.
When it comes to delivering real consumer value, we need to stop saying that we’re helping consumers by giving them the right ad at the right time, when so much of what we give them are short-term, response-focused pitches optimized to the 0.01% of likely responders, with no regard for the 99.99% of people who find them irrelevant and redundant. Let’s get real about doing the right thing, and building a future with fewer, more relevant ads that all recipients actually want and value.
Let’s make our systems and transactions truly transparent about components and costs, and kill the gimmicks that so many use to hide behind, like last-click attribution, a trick that benefits those who cookie-bomb, and whose products cannot stand the scrutiny of true, scientific attribution analysis. Thanks to folks like Prohaska Consulting, among others, for fighting the good fight here to help rid us of this mess.
Let’s make our deeds equal our words. For far too many, the standard for ethical behavior is plausible deniability. “I had no idea that 40% of the traffic that we bought to resell to you were bots.” “How could I know that 30% of our CTV buy was really torrents running in app SDKs?” “How can we possibly inspect each and every video that we buy? You have to expect some bad stuff to fall through the cracks.”
We all need to take ownership for the industry that we are creating here today. Investors are assigning it hundreds of billions of collective value. This is the time when we need to welcome vigilance. We need to call out bad actions and bad actors. We need to do the right thing. We need to build this for the long haul.
Fundamentally, we need to shift the culture of our industry to celebrating consumer value, not unicorn status. What do you think?
It has already begun. I was forced to watch an on-demand version of Navy Seals when an overtime game ruined my usual recording and the ad load was horrendous. There were literally two to three moments of programming bracketed by a ton of ads and promos. If this is what the future holds, deal me out.
Ouch. Thanks George. Yep. Avoiding the Lassie moment today is likely to bring with it a crappy experience.
Dave, you paint a scary picture and if the ad tech folks really take over "TV" I'm afraid that your prediction---or fears---will come to pass. But I don't see it evolving in quite that way. The traditional media entities finally woke up are invading the streaming sphere and while they will, no doubt, make mistakes and suffer defeats, enough of their efforts will bear fruit to offer advertisers---and audiences---an alternative----providing traditional TV controlled AVOD represents,say, 25-30% of all viewing while the rump of "linear TV" holds on to about 40%. Of course, the price---CPMs---- will shoot up---but it will be worth it to avoid the spectre of doom that you have described.
Ed, I am an optimist, but we need to be real that the traditional media companies and TV companies no longer control the agenda. Facebook alone, sells far more ads a year than all Tv companies in the US combined, by a very large margin. And, it is growing growing it ads business each year by more than any 3 TV companies combines (while they are losing audience and trying hard to hold the same ad revenue).
Dave, many of the ads that are sold by digital powerhouses like FB are of a local nature by small advertisers and relatively few of these dollars come from the same budgets that fuel national TV ad revenues. The typical share of ad spend for national TV advertisers that goes to digital media is around 20% and much of this is sales promotional activity. I think that the barrage of "ad spend" stats that is being promoted constantly gives a false impression of what the TV networks/cable channels are up against. It's not so much that the tech giants are taking over most of their TV ad revenues but rather a function of audience fragmentation which has forced the TV folks to seek out new revenue and audience sources---currently via streaming.
In the end, I believe that the tech guys will have to adapt and become more like TV in terms of how they sell and format/schedule commercials as well as in the nature of their content if they expect to compete for large amounts of "TV" ad revenues. The viewing public will not stand for their TV being so viewer unfriendly---nor will TV advertisers as such behavior will minimize the impact of their commercials.
Ed, you make good points about Facebook and other large tech players driving a lot of their business with small advertisers, but it is clear that the marketers they do best with are digital-first, app-based and direct to consumer. They dominate those and comapnies like Facebook, Google and Amazon are growing their ad busiensses by tens of billions of revenue EACH, while TV companies are flat to down. I love TV and TV comapnies, but neither they nor their practices are setting the agenda for the long-term future of advertsing.
Dave, I agree that digital media will and does dominate direct -to-consumer advertising. But that is not what most TV advertisers are about. Nor is it likely that this will change significantly in the near future. Branding ad dollars will continue to flow to venues that afford their messages worthwhile or "premium", professionally created, content to appear in as well as reasonably designed commercial break positionning in such shows---be they "linear TV" programs or streaming shows or both. Moreover, many advertisers will continue to rate content association higher than targeting, CPMs, etc. ---and until the tech folks can get a strangle hold on news and sports viewing plus specials---which account for 40-45% of TV ad spend, they aren't going to get those dollars. At this point, they are a long way off from getting their hands on such content. As for the rest of the TV ad money---sure there will be inroads---but a large percentage will still stick with the traditional TV time sellers---even if this means "linear" as well as AVOD time buys. Just my humble opinion, of course.
Ed: if you are right (as you often are) the early efforts to advertise in streaming are really an insult to viewers. The same ad delivered over and over in the same program, the off-putting number and length of ad breaks give the impression that the platforms are clueless about the user experience. I think this is part of what Dave is warning about.
George, I agree but I don't see this as an inevitable pattern for the future with streaming growing in volume of usage and many more ad sellers and programmers entering the frey. Many of those ad sellers will be from traditional media and they will---I hope and believe---apply the lessons learned about what sophisticated national advertisers need as well as what viewers will get used to and tolerate to their streaming operations.
Ed, unfortunately, most of the best in TV selling are either still focused on maximing the value of the linear TV sale or have retired out. The ad servers that are running the vast majority of premium streaming ads are built first to support progrmattic ad feeds and revenue yileds. They are not designed to support viewer relevance, and can't since they have to deliver through so many different configurations of apps, devices and TV's. Thus, the digita-first performance advertisers wins those auctions and creates the situation that George and so many others complaign of. The CPG's and big TV brands of the world are not prepared to play in this world un a big way because they are so fcoused on overall CPM cost per point, and don't pay premiums for guaranteed reach and true frequency controls, so the systems are being modified to deliver hte experience that TV provided a couple of deacdes ago.
Dave, I can see a future where some ad-supported TV goes the way you describe---via programmatic, CPM chomping, buying systems--with all of the issues they bring with them---fraud, overcommercialzation and repetition, very high buying and distribution costs, no consideration for program quality or reach, etc. etc. I do not think that such behavior will be adopted by whatever remains of "linear TV"---my guess is about 40% of viewing---which is a huge chunk---nor of TV network- controlled AVOD. Exactly how big the latter will become is anyone's guess at this time. I think it may get to a 30% share of ad GRPs---but that remains to be seen. If I'm right, and 70%, or thereabouts, of TV ad GRPs are sold by TV network -controlled operators, I believe that they will follow the old rules---with some mods---but not get caught up in the programmatic hustle. And I also believe that branding advertisers will resist the kind of selling---and scheduling--- you have described, letting the search/DR types and the mom and pop folks gobble up most of the tech GRP---er "impression"---- goodies.