Connected TV Needs One Thing To Become an Industry: Standards

older couple watching TV on the news
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I found myself in a classic “chicken or the egg” TV industry debate at a recent business dinner. 

The conversation centered on whether the internet and connected TV led to innovations in television or whether the massive revenue increases from advanced TV advertising led to investments in innovations like CTV, streaming and a move toward digital-first distribution. 

Bruce Anderson

Invidi CEO and global CTO Bruce Anderson (Image credit: Invidi)

How the bits make it from point A to point B on a screen doesn’t matter, whether it’s a set-top box, tablet or mobile phone. Under the hood, CTV is still just television that happens to be delivered over IP. And FAST? Besides a cool-sounding acronym, free ad-supported television is still the traditional broadcast model. I don’t pay to watch CBS broadcast TV free over the air — advertisers do! 

Somebody at the dinner table pushed this starry-eyed view: “You don’t need standards in CTV.” 

On the contrary. To build any kind of industry, you must eventually have standardization. Every growing sector has two choices: 1) you standardize and have an industry or 2) you don’t standardize, and you have a monopoly or, worse, an ad hoc conglomerate. 

I know about this cycle. My own company was one-half of an addressable advertising tech duopoly and we’ve now grown as much as we can in the U.S. We must now work to standardize and build an industry so that we can work with the other partners in the space to grow it. That’s the only way forward.  

The entire television industry is based on this classic business arc. RCA was once an early example of vertical integration, owning content creation via NBC, transmission through station-group ownership and manufacturing, making cameras and television sets. When the move to color was happening, the Federal Communications Commission held a competition and RCA’s NTSC lost to the Color Wheel developed and backed by CBS. When RCA threatened to go its own way due to its market dominance, the FCC reversed course and adopted NTSC as the “standard.” 

Program-guide software in cable television is another example. The guide technology was held by a single company that charged exorbitant fees and became a roadblock to new technologies that cable operators wanted to deploy. The solution? A major cable operator invested heavily in developing its own hardware platform and software stack, effectively putting the guide company out of business and commoditizing the set-top box industry at the same time.  Another monopoly tumbled. 

Free markets abhor monopolies. They’ll put up with them for a little while but eventually everybody hates paying the freight because monopolies can charge whatever they want and stifle innovation. At some point, someone will break in and disrupt your model just to steal market share because monopolies are unstable.  

CTV and FAST may be today’s dangling shiny objects to many in the industry but they did not magically appear overnight. They both followed the classic monopoly-to-standardization pattern that started with the internet’s birth in the ’60s. The internet was a Defense Department and university monopoly until the creation of the Ethernet protocol and HTML as its everyday language, standards that allowed everyone to participate, not just a privileged few.  

The tech monoliths have created their own monopolies by building impenetrable silos for advertisers, but even those are slowly starting to crumble.  

Google’s ad monopoly started being chipped away the second the IAB and major advertisers banded together to create header bidding and threw pebbles into the Google Ad Manager gears. Suddenly, the playing field was leveled, and Google was forced to work with companies they never had to before, pushing it toward transparency and universal standards. 

Meta’s time is certainly going to come. It offers a platform to create campaigns that can exist only on its own network and nowhere else.  

Still, marketers believe they have to spend money with them. There are too many users there and they can’t afford to ignore them. 

In the short term, Facebook will continue to attract advertising dollars But in the long run, like many other content companies, its walled strategy will become a loser and it will have to conform with standards just like Google.  

To build any kind of industry, you must eventually have standardization.”

— Bruce Anderson, Invidi

The tide is turning against Facebook on two fronts:  Advertisers are tiring of making endless calls to multiple ad tech ecosystems to reach their desired audiences, especially when they want to know exactly what they are getting in return for their investment and added work.  

At the same time, Facebook’s prime demographic is moving out of the age group that advertisers really care about, pushing the company into an identity crisis, even trying to make themselves look like TikTok. Parent company Meta’s stock price spent much of 2022 beaten down on weak earnings, and their metaverse strategy is looking like a very expensive albatross. 

We may be seeing the writing on the wall that being a monopoly forever is not in the cards for many technology-driven brands, including those in television. 

Make no mistake: CTV is here to stay and there are lucrative businesses to be built around it. They may seem sexy as the new shiny tech gadgets. Taking pages from the Google and Facebook playbook, they’ve built up many silos and we have seen how those monopoly cycles eventually fail. Expect chaos in the short term as competing technologies ultimately create a stable business ecosystem. 

However, the hockey stick of growth will not come for CTV until everything works the same way when standards are in place, even if it is “the Wild West of the internet.” ■ 

Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson is CEO and global chief technology officer of Invidi Technologies.