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Why Identity Is the Biggest Challenge Facing the TV Ad Market's Ability to Deliver True Cross-Platform Targeting and Measurement

A family watches content on multiple screens in their living room.
(Image credit: Eric Audras/Getty Images)

Over the last 16 months, changes in viewership have accelerated down a path the TV industry has long been moving toward as consumer behavior has led to omni-channel content consumption.

Yet despite all the warning signs, TV targeting and measurement has not kept pace. This lag was exposed even further in a year underpinned by programming upheaval and a sharp rise in video consumption as more people engaged with content from home. 

TV’s inability to get a holistic, person-level view of its audience across screens has challenged publishers and advertisers alike. Fragmented viewership paired with siloed identity, targeting and measurement has led to counting problems, creating blind spots with adding up viewers across multiple viewing experiences.

Brands increasingly need to plan, target, optimize and track the impact of TV ad spending -- across all devices, platforms and screens. Emerging new technologies and the rise of streaming seem to be just what TV needs to get there. But challenges still exist for the TV ad market. Let’s try to break it down.

Is a common ID for TV the answer?

The solution starts with breaking down the ID silos across TV publishers and platforms.

Buyers need a system where they can define a unified audience target across all consumers and devices. For example, creating an audience target for linear that can’t be used in digital or addressable TV isn’t useful. Similarly, creating an audience that can only be used in digital isn’t productive if you care about holistic measurement.

When creating an omni-channel audience for TV, marketers need to ask three key questions:

  1. Can my audience be matched to a common ID that spans all consumers?
  2. Can my audience IDs be matched to viewership data to create consistent audience segments for targeting across linear, digital and addressable?
  3. Can my audience segments be sent consistently to all TV publishers to execute?

If the answer is no, then counting will remain a basic problem.

Can a common ID work in non-connected environments?

Yes. Saying we can’t do omni-channel targeting and measurement until we have complete census data across TV has been an excuse we’ve used for way too long. We can’t wait for the perfect solution to move things forward.

Today in non-connected environments where we only have panel data, we rely on measurement companies to model reach and frequency to a national footprint. Going forward, we need to ensure those reach and frequency projections are mapped to an ID spine and that the ID spine can be matched to ID spines that are used to build audiences. This data science work is happening today at all the major measurement companies. Buyers and sellers will need to decide who does the best job at modeling reach and frequency on an ID basis.

Should the TV ad industry gravitate toward one form of a user identifier for targeting or many?

Various forms of advanced TV advertising can employ household data, device IDs, third-party research data, first-party data, proprietary device graphs, among others, which provides great flexibility. However, TV’s range of solutions can also lead to fragmentation and confusion. With nearly everyone trying to solve for identity, most brands and publishers don’t necessarily know where to start.

And historically, media marketplaces that lack standards or are marked by significant complexity don’t grow very fast.

The question remains, what does this mean for TV?

Common ID resolution for television could alleviate this problem – and ignite a marketplace.

Imagine a skeleton key that would allow brands to connect their first-party data to any of these solutions seamlessly. On the flip side, imagine the possibilities for media companies if they were able to source demand from across the advanced TV landscape without necessarily having to forge partnerships and conduct tech/data integrations with every single player in the ecosystem.

Interoperability with existing buy- and sell-side ID initiatives is key.

For a common identity framework to work for video, it must be able to be matched with all existing ID sets to allow for data to be moved from the buy-side to the sell-side and all applicable end points.

For if there is one thing brand advertisers love to lament, it’s the inability to see at a person-level where ads are being viewed across TV networks, screens and platforms. So, addressing that concern is the key to real cross-platform planning and measurement. 

As for publishers, a challenge regarding cross-platform deals is that even when in control of their own data, they are bound to antiquated measurement systems which hold the entire ecosystem back.

Ultimately, an identity resolution for TV must begin and end with breaking down the walls across screens and platforms to mirror the way people consume video and TV.

Imagine the possibilities for marketers then.

David Levy

David Levy is the CEO of OpenAP, the advanced advertising company bringing simplicity and scale to audience-based campaigns in television. OpenAP makes it easy for buyers to plan, transact and measure against advanced targeting capabilities and ad products, at scale across premium TV publishers.