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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Yes, CTV is complex. But it is worth your time and investment

August 31, 2020 | By Simon Asselin, SVP, Engineering – trueX @trueX

On the surface, building for the connected living room looks rather daunting. The ecosystem of devices collectively referred to as “Connected TV” has an impressive amount of creative potential. But it’s also notably fragmented in terms of device hardware and software capabilities  – not to mention the array of subscription services available. 

Fully embracing all these new creative tools involves a willingness to take on a lot of complexity. This is particularly true since the output has more in common with rich entertainment media like video games than traditional video media. Driving these experiences out to viewers needs to be done in a way that’s fast, massively scalable, and highly streamlined. 

So, from a creative standpoint, where do you start? In this two-part series, we’ll first zoom in to better understand the space. Then, in part two, we’ll tackle best practices for addressing the CTV opportunity. 

Three platforms

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about CTV is that creators and marketers are building for three relatively distinct platforms. On the device end, the CTV space roughly consists of three “clusters.” 

First and foremost, there’s Roku, whose devices have been around since 2008. More than any other company, Roku defined the space that we now know as CTV. Then there’s Apple TV, a hardware and operating system combination that has more in common with Apple’s more modern iOS than its legacy MacOS architecture. Finally, there’s a whole collection of game consoles (Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch), smart TVs (Samsung Tizen, LG WebOS, Vizio SmartCast) and other connected devices (Amazon Fire TV, Android TV). These all share the ability to run HTML5, the web’s longtime connective tissue. 

The capabilities of these devices varies considerably. Some, like the Xbox One, PS4 and Apple TV, have powerful hardware that can handle high-end animation and 3D graphics, much like a pricey gaming PC. But other devices are considerably lower-end, often designed with affordability in mind. The analogy here would be that of a budget-priced consumer laptop. 

Complexity and connectivity

What’s more, CTV devices’ remote controls are often vastly different from one another. Some feature voice input or gyroscopic sensors that can detect gestures, position, and movement. And to top all this, all CTV devices are, well… connected. They can tap into web services for dynamic behavior, personalized experiences, and rich data. Collectively, this can be dizzying to reconcile and maximize. 

I don’t need to remind anyone that performance matters, too. Targeting and engagement are among buyers’ key expectations. Unfortunately, these are also tough to address on CTV. 

On the targeting side, a large portion of the device ecosystem  – for example, Apple TV and Roku  – does not support cookies at all. Even among devices with HTML5 capability, manufacturers maintain separate storage and cookie contexts for individual apps. This further silos applications and limits the effectiveness of Data Management Platforms (DMP) and the reach of device graphs and targeting audiences they sell.

Critical questions

Those of us who are building advertising for the connected TV environment have three fundamental questions we need to answer before we commit to the medium and consider ourselves prepared to address its complexity:

  • What capabilities of CTV platforms actually work to drive a viewer’s impact and brand lift? 
  • How does one effectively map an advanced CTV experience across all platforms, acknowledging each one’s strengths and shortfalls? 
  • How can one do this at scale?

All of this probably sounds a bit daunting. From both a creative and planning standpoint, CTV takes the challenges and advantages from both digital video and traditional television and adds a twist in the form of CTV’s complex fragmentation of devices. Some marketers may shy away from the current complexity and hope that things get a bit “cleaner” in a  few years. 

However, smart marketers will want to tackle this challenging environment head-on so they can help actively shape its future. Connected TV is the future, and that future is coming faster than we expected. The Leichtman Research Group estimates that 80% of American households have a CTV device or smart TV in their homes. It was just 24% in 2010. And ad spend, at $7 billion in 2019, is expected to reach nearly $11 billion next year.

Consumers’ definition of “TV” increasingly means long-form, streaming, on-demand content in the living room. And the time to build brand experiences for it is now. In part two, we’ll be looking at some strategies for tackling these challenges.

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