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In the Great Streaming Migration, the Operator is King

As we have all heard, the television industry has been undergoing a steady transition for several years, as streaming services and connected devices have increased. Even the most optimistic streaming enthusiasts would be shocked by some of the numbers we’ve seen as a result of the changing viewing patterns resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

But while viewers can easily find new content across dozens of streaming services, each new entrant complicates the situation for advertisers. As the number of streaming and VOD apps has grown, so too has the complexity in finding a brands target audience and measuring campaign success. Add to that the fact that linear TV also remains a critical piece of any brand’s strategy given its 85%+ weekly reach of US adults , and things get even more complex.

As a result of this increasingly dynamic environment, the importance of audience-based advertising and a cross-channel video strategy that can utilize data in a safe manner will be critical moving forward as brands navigate the ever more fragmented video ecosystem.

Emerging Marketplace Challenges

The most pressing challenges facing advertising decision-makers operating in the video ecosystem can be broadly broken down into three categories:

Lack of reliable cross-device, cross-platform identity signals

With consumers logging into multiple accounts, devices, and platforms, the same audience can look completely different depending on the data source. In many cases, consumers purposely obscure identity with fake information or share logins across multiple users; some who may not even reside in the account holders’ homes. In the case of free video services, a lack of billing data makes it even harder to pair devices to individuals.

Growing number of data silos

As more players enter the fragmented and highly competitive marketplace, companies are tightening control and getting more protective with their data due to legal and regulatory requirements, while simultaneously recognizing the importance of using their datasets to develop proprietary products and services. Walled gardens are no longer just the domain of streaming heavy hitters—we’re seeing an increasing number of device manufacturers cordon off their internal data too. These business strategies are often driven by regulatory requirements, especially in light of expanded privacy protections for consumers. Regardless of reason, this siloing of data makes it significantly more difficult for advertisers to measure campaign impact across a representative mix of services and Devices.

Lack of authenticated cross-channel measurement

The combination of the first two challenges makes measuring key campaign indicators like impressions, reach, and frequency across platforms a Herculean task. Marketers must consider a head-spinning array of data sources measured at different levels of granularity, and unique audience signals and identifiers across different devices. To make measuring advertising across devices as easy as it is to consume content across devices, the industry will need a scalable solution to reach audiences and measure de-duplicated delivery data.

The Opportunity: Could Operators Provide the Missing Connection?

With all of the talk about streaming TV services, we often lose sight of the key players providing the all-important connectivity between video viewing devices and content—MSOs (multi-system operators). These operators are well positioned to address the challenges of the streaming marketplace on behalf of the industry.

MVPDs have millions of direct consumer relationships and are trusted to deliver both linear video content and streaming content services. And while there’s plenty of talk about audiences migrating from Pay TV to streaming apps, what people don’t seem to fully appreciate is that some of the largest operators have actually recently reported an increase in total subscriber relationships over the past few quarters.

Furthermore, these companies have access to aggregate TV viewing and ad exposure insights and the ability to resolve device-level viewing and ad exposure data at the household level to plan, target, and measure against audiences across all viewing platforms using privacy compliant approaches. In other words, operators have just what advertisers are looking for in this new streaming world.

Additionally, the acceleration of new technologies, including sophisticated encryption-based approaches, is now helping them add additional protections. 

Given these assets, should they chose, operators could usher in a new era of cross platform advertising. By facilitating authentication and measurement solutions without sharing data with third parties, these operators could facilitate the development of a “Digital Household ID” that could be used to help marketers measure (and even manage) deduplicated reach and frequency across platforms for a given target audience. It goes without saying that this needs to be done in a way that is consistent with each operator’s privacy commitments, such as, for example, only allowing data to be analyzed once it has been aggregated and de-identified. It also goes without saying that some operators will chose not to participate. However, there are signs of change.

Historically, operators haven’t been incented to data-enable others, fearing that this could come at the expense of their own ad sales efforts or lead to leaks of sensitive data. However, operators now have privacy focused ways, through new technology, to enable advanced advertising without compromising on privacy. As evidence of this, there is now a variety of initiatives in which operators are enabling addressability for other national ad sellers, including programmers, on their own MVPD set-top boxes, consistent with each company’s commitment to privacy. We’ve also recently seen the debut of a variety of industry data solutions, focused on authentication, identity, and privacy across providers. These services are providing more control and data protections to users, supporting enablement without sharing commercially sensitive or personal information with third parties. In other words, many operators are continuing to innovate their advertising capabilities while respecting privacy and allowing advertisers and publishers to securely connect the dots between delivery data sets to form aggregated and anonymized insights.

The industry is well prepared to take advantage of the tsunami of new streaming viewership. Success, however, may require operators to take a leading role. As it turns out, the companies sitting right in front of us (quite literally) may be better equipped than anyone else to connect audiences and data across an increasingly complex system.

Blockgraph is an industry-operated data and insights platform owned by three of the largest media and video distribution companies in the world: Comcast NBCUniversal, Charter Communications, Inc. and ViacomCBS Inc.

CEO, Blockgraph