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TV Challenges Require TV Solutions

A man using his phone while watching TV
(Image credit: Maskot via Getty Images)

There’s been a lot written lately about the perceived challenges with CTV measurement across both programming and ads. 

And to be sure, the relatively nascent CTV market does have much maturing to do in terms of standardized measurement practices. These growing pains are only amplified by the increasingly growing number of users flocking to CTV devices and services. 

But the measurement challenges gaining attention today are not so much a factor of the CTV format as they are a result of trying to apply digital advertising solutions to what is still a TV experience. 

On one hand, the “connected” part of CTV is digital by nature. It therefore has the potential to be more contextually relevant to audiences with better measurement opportunities in comparison to traditional TV advertising. But while programming (and ads) sent to CTV devices share a common transmission method as that sent to mobile phones, laptops, and tablets, the TV is an inherently different kind of device. 

For instance, viewers interact with those other devices differently than with a TV. A TV uses a remote. Those other devices use touch screens, links, and more. That interaction provides different types of engagement signals than TV, and as such measure differently. 

What’s more, digital measurement solutions created for phones and similar devices assume a single-viewer scenario. TV, however, is a shared experience, usually with multiple viewers watching the same programming (add ads) on the same screen at the same time in the same room (which is why co-viewing metrics are so important (opens in new tab)).

CTV is a wholly unique environment. It’s a TV environment. So it must be measured with practices that take into account the uniqueness of the TV reality.

Yet despite these fundamental differences, many are still trying to apply the same technology used to measure mobile/computer ad viewability to the TV space. Forgive the cliche, but that’s the classic definition of forcing a square peg into a round hole.

While buying ad inventory across multiple service platforms is relatively simple, measuring ads across them all can be incredibly complex. The maze of pathways, technologies, and partnerships between ad services, content providers, and streaming platforms is simply too fragmented to find the solution there.

To date, we’ve gotten away with it because the volume of activity and spending was relatively low. Asking that maze to police itself is sort of like grading your own homework. But all that is changing. Brands spending tens of millions on CTV ads are demanding independent, accurate, third-party measurement.

And therein lies the challenge. While digital measurement solutions won’t work for the CTV environment, traditional TV measurement models won’t work either. The Nielsen framework was created for a world of content scarcity, where a large number of viewers had a limited number of programming choices. So a panel system based on the viewing habits of just 20,000 users made sense…then. 

Clearly, the streaming TV space has far more choices both in the programming itself and the source of that programming. That’s where the fragmentation comes from. There are multiple content providers and streaming platforms, each with their own ad inventory and data systems, with very little transparency or standardization between them. 

But there is one constant, one single point of truth that supersedes it all: the destination. 

Rather than searching for answers across disparate content providers, service platforms, ad services and others adding to the fragmentation, look to one destination where all this activity ends -- the TV.

After all, TV-specific challenges require TV-specific solutions. 

The TV set is the independent point of truth through which all ads, programming, and content flows regardless of the source. 

The point is made abundantly clear in the recent news from iSpot and GroupM (opens in new tab) that 17% of ads served through peripheral streaming devices are delivered to TV sets that are off. The peripheral can’t tell if the TV is on or not. But that same study also affirms, ads delivered to devices always hit the glass. 

Sure, peripheral manufacturers can work on better recognizing the "off" signal from the TVs they’re plugged into. And streaming platforms can introduce more prompts to ensure viewers are still engaged. But neither really gets to the core question, which is "what’s on the screen."

The most accurate answer to that question comes from smart TV manufacturers with the technology to report on what the screen is showing (opens in new tab). Glass-level automatic content recognition data that answers these questions at the most centralized point-- the TV screen. 

It’s an independent verification that has the potential to clear up all this confusion and establish at long last the single point of truth advertisers seek. Of course, there are a few steps needed to reach that goal.

First, smart TVs will soon be the default UX in the home, replacing peripherals, dongles, and any other workaround (opens in new tab) that’s been utilized to date. Streaming content to an unconnected TV via an external connected device won’t generate the glass-level ACR data we’re talking about. The good news is that smart TV penetration has reached an all-time high in the U.S. And all new TVs sold are likely to be connected TVs -- it’s almost impossible to find a set that is not internet-enabled.

Next is standardization of how CTV is counted. While the second-by-second, attribution and other digital-like qualities adopted by CTV are a net plus, if the marketplace does not factor in co-viewing, brands and publishers will be swapping small panels for bad math and leaving money and viewership allocation on the table.

This industry needs every resource at its disposal to ensure the full promise of CTV advertising is realized. If left unchecked, today’s uncertainties around CTV ad verification could stunt the growth of the CTV market just when it's poised to take off.

The takeaway here is that the TV is no longer just a dumb piece of hardware that only displays content. It’s evolved into a smart, connected device with sophisticated software designed for the unique TV environment. As such, it’s a mistake to overlook the solutions smart TVs can offer to today’s CTV challenges. ■

Travis Hockersmith is group vice president of Platform+ at Vizio.  As group VP of Platform+, he currently leads operations for Vizio's rapidly growing platform business, which includes Vizio Ads and Inscape.