Advertising Guest Columns
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How publishers can unlock connected TV (CTV) to optimise revenue

Publishers have heard plenty of buzz around connected TV (CTV) over the last year. Amid booming audience engagement — with 40.9 million UK users watching video content on the big screen during lockdown — buy-side enthusiasm around the potential to bolster campaign exposure and ad interaction has soared. There is also rising awareness of the scope for linear-centric broadcasters to evolve their models and enhance online revenues. But focus on how the CTV explosion can benefit wider digital media owners has been limited.

Most publishers are familiar with the power and profitability of video. Back in 2018, UK titles such as News UK predicted video revenue increases of up to 30%, while recent studies show video-driven yield grew 10.7% in 2020, despite fierce pandemic headwinds. The CTV space, however, has remained relatively unknown and unexplored territory.

As third-party cookie deprecation, browser restrictions and keyword blocking continue to impact their revenues, moving into CTV could help publishers unlock greater growth and monetisation rewards. As long, that is, as they understand the key opportunities and challenges.

Why embrace the big screen?

Key among the obvious advantages of tapping into CTV is, of course, expanded audience reach. Where users were migrating away from traditional media well before COVID-19, the switch to online-first living has super-charged demand for multiple sources of digital entertainment and information, CTV included. Nearly half of global users have increased their intake since the outbreak: putting CTV almost level with the 47% spike for news and digital content and making it an essential outlet for media owners seeking to maximise audience attention.

Equally, CTV presents valuable yield boosting prospects. While alternative revenue streams — especially subscriptions — account for an increasing share of the publishing mix, ads still contribute a sizeable slice; with display alone currently accounting for 42%. Against the backdrop of ever-stricter rules and limitations on cookie-based ad targeting across broader digital media, the cookie-less CTV environment appears to create enticing possibilities for publishers to bolster video monetisation using their own first-party data and contextual insight. 

Additionally, expanding CTV offerings will also give them a greater supply of the premium-quality video inventory advertisers now want. Not only do CTV ads provide higher viewability than many other digital formats — averaging at 93.3% — but they also give brands more time to tell their story via in-stream ad breaks that run as long as 120 seconds, far above standard six-second digital slots. Combined with the strong addressability of CTV placements, it’s no surprise 77% of brands plan on increasing spend over the next 12 months.

CTV’s biggest publishing players

Although publisher CTV initiatives are still nascent, there are several examples that highlight the varied pathways they can take. For example, The Economist started by launching its offering — ‘The Economist Films’ — as a vehicle for increasing long-form media distribution through social media channels, before branching into CTV with an app in 2016. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal went straight to streaming heavyweights Apple TV and Roku to extend its online presence. Acting as a hub for its video journalism, their apps hosted through the over-the-top (OTT) platforms bring an array of video explainer and investigative content to a broader audience, while an ad-supported model ensures optimal availability and opportunity for engagement for marketers.

Going one step further, Vox Media has recently built on its previous Roku CTV developments with a standalone app for its food publication, running across Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Google TV. Unveiled in 2020, the app also leverages advertising partnerships as a core element of its funding and is set to be the first of many title-specific CTV projects.

These innovations illustrate the CTV environment isn’t just open to publishers; it’s already being utilised by leading players to enhance distribution scale and audience range. The question is: how can other publishers follow their lead successfully?

Overcoming efficiency hurdles

Alongside its many avenues for growth, the CTV market presents complexities publishers must navigate before they can reap its benefits.

Disconnected data continues to create challenges for CTV advertising efficiency at multiple levels, including targeting, verification and measurement — which, in turn, makes it just as troublesome for publishers hoping to fuel ad revenue. Much of the problem comes down to limited access. Faced with concerns about potential piracy, cherry-picking of ad inventory and rights infringement, media owners understandably tend to keep data locked in content management systems (CMS). Yet this approach has resulted in vast fragmentation, making video data extremely hard to collate and normalise without myriad direct integrations.

These difficulties are closely intertwined with video brand safety issues. Accessing the data needed to assess content is tricky enough in the display environment, where analytical tools frequently rely on imprecise public data scraped from webpages and text-based signals to determine safety. For CTV, the lack of any text data means publishers must find another way to categorise their content and marketers must find another way to access it. Without that, brands have no transparency into where their ads may run and they may take great risk running an ad at the expense of safety. Of course, at the same time, publishers may lose potential revenue if they cannot deliver acceptable content transparency norms for these brands.

The simplest way around these obstacles is adopting mechanisms that securely share and use video-level data. The latest breed of data platforms enable publishers to onboard video-level data from their CMS — including sight, sound and motion information — and connect it with players along the supply chain, without resigning ownership or putting privacy at risk. By harnessing such capabilities, publishers can increase insight flow across brand safety tools, verification providers, supply and demand-side platforms (SSPs and DSPs), and ad servers: essentially greasing the wheels of CTV advertising and making it safer. Additionally, improved ability to activate video-level data will allow for better content tailoring and experiences within CTV apps.

If publishers are willing to think ‘inside the video’, there is significant room for them to claim their share of CTV rewards too. Expanding CTV offerings will help publishers amplify content reach and plug into the fast-growing demand for versatile, 24/7 digital content: winning higher investment on the way. But doing so effectively will also mean ensuring they have the right strategies and technology partners in place to facilitate efficient monetisation. By securely opening up video-level data access, they can unlock the doors to greater attention and revenue.

Bill Swanson
EMEA Strategy Lead, IRIS.TV

IRIS.TV’s mission is to connect and unify video data to power better consumer experiences and business outcomes. IRIS.TV’s video data platform is a neutral, privacy-first, cookieless solution that provides publishers, broadcasters and Connected TV apps with secure onboarding and activation of third-party data segments. Since 2013, IRIS.TV has enabled its partners to build scalable solutions on top of its platform including video-level contextual and brand-safe ad targeting, third-party verification, personalised video recommendations, and measurement & analytics solutions. For more information, visit