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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Rethinking ad production for connected TV

November 24, 2020 | By Simon Asselin, SVP, Engineering – trueX @trueX

Connected TV presents some inherent trade-offs, like more limited targeting capabilities as well as a complex and heterogeneous array of devices. And, of course, there’s the viewing environment. In part one of this op ed, we tackled the dizzying array of CTV platforms, the multitude of capabilities that can drive impact, and performance. Even for planners, developers, and designers who have been building advertising for desktop and mobile video for a decade or more, CTV presents a new host of questions and challenges. 

But it is worth stepping up to the challenge. CTV is increasingly where audiences are spending their time. It is important to note that, while CTV offers the same potential for rich interactivity that a computer or mobile device does, it’s still on a television, and consumers are used to approaching TV in a more “lean-back” way. 

Advertising on CTV truly embodies the adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Advertisers, publishers, and technology companies are all interdependent. And, in order for any of us to succeed in it, the whole industry has to understand how to approach the medium. 

Rethinking strategy from the ground up

Structure

Building for connected TV means, in many cases, starting completely from scratch — including with your technical team. The complex, multi-device CTV landscape means that you’re often building for platforms with a range of capacities and technical limitations. That is unless you’ve chosen to restrict a campaign by platform, which might be your best route if your goals are innovation rather than scale. 

How audiences react to CTV ads is in many ways still evolving. That means that it’s important to set up an experimentation feedback loop where you can rapidly develop, test and flight new experiences and capabilities. Then you need to graduate only those experiments that were successful into scaled, cross-platform formats. It’s important to engage your advertiser clients to participate in this process. You must partner with them in supporting these innovative advertising projects and being upfront about the fact that you’re working in a relatively unproven medium — but one that has massive potential. 

Your learnings from these technical investments can form the basis of an ongoing strategy that enables you to drive rich advertising experiences in a scalable way across platforms as different as a Roku box to LG TVs to the Sony PS4. 

Targeting

As Part 1 of this series explained, many CTV platforms do not support cookies at all. On CTV in general, targeting is very different from what digital advertisers are used to. Many CTV campaigns aren’t targeted at all beyond the network or show that they run against. 

Consider incorporating self-identified targeting by using an interactive card to try and qualify the viewer for its requirements. This card might ask the viewer if they have pets, for example. If they said yes, a campaign targeted to pet owners would run. Otherwise, the experience would revert to an untargeted fallback campaign. 

This experience is open and transparent, as there is a direct link between a targeted campaign and the collection of the information enabling the targeting to be fulfilled. (You can also offer the viewer the choice to opt out of any question, leading them to said fallback campaign.) 

Engagement

How do you get a viewer to follow through on a call to action in a CTV ad? To be blunt, neither the living room setting nor the device / app environment lends itself well to clicking through to a landing page. These are usually not possible due to reasons noted above, like the lack of a web browser, as well as the fact that viewers tend to be in a more lean-back state. As a result, most branded experiences on CTV leave a lot of campaign performance on the table by being passive and failing to pull the audience in. 

We had a bit of an unfair advantage at true[X], given that all our ads already require a deliberate opt-in — not just on CTV. So, we only put ads in front of viewers who have actively chosen to see them. We’d be thrilled if more companies adopted this, to be honest. Opt-in advertising puts those viewers into a state where they will be more actively processing and reacting to an advertiser’s message, and as it turns out, this is perfect for addressing connected TV’s “lean-back” problem. 

There’s also one well-known alleged drawback to viewer engagement on CTV (and non-connected TV, for that matter) that you can turn it into a major opportunity. Over 90% of consumers have their mobile devices in-hand while they watch TV. Rather than get discouraged by the implication that it means they’ll never pay attention to ads, consider incorporating mobile phones into the CTV ad experience. 

You can implement QR codes that enable a click through onto the viewer’s mobile device, where it then becomes much easier to drive lower-funnel goals such as consideration and purchase. And you can go a step further and create a two-screen real time session. As a test, we built an interactive pizza builder where the viewer could assemble a custom pizza by swiping ingredients up from her mobile device to the CTV screen. Pepperoni, mushrooms, or anchovies would seamlessly animate up from the mobile screen and onto the pizza on the large screen — presumably, that very pizza could be ordered right at the end of the experience. 

Future ready

But will viewers actually engage? Will the ads work? That’s where we go back to the question of structure and workflow. Restructuring teams to address an emerging medium meant that we could adequately test experimental features and proceed with the prototypes that “stuck.” 

Just because a new technology is widely available doesn’t mean consumers are actually using it, after all. Figuring out what sticks is paramount to CTV success. And if something doesn’t stick? Don’t force it.

The transition to connected TV advertising requires the whole industry to take what we know from both linear and digital platforms, keep what works, and adapt it for this totally new environment. The unique capabilities of the medium, and diverse array of device architectures rule out simply replicating solutions that worked before. It requires a new, innovative approach. But remember that it’s one we all need to work on to create, because the connected living room is where consumers are now. 

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