Bridging the Gap between Content, Context and Audience

Television is the largest brand building medium in the history of the world, and advertisers have largely aligned their messages to specific programming. As digital has grown across display, search, social and video, the benefits of one-to-one targeting based on audience attributes have diminished the value placed on the TV mode of contextual advertising. 

These attributes—from demographics to geographics, attitudes and behaviors—have led to a targeting, precision and performance-through-waste-reduction mindset.

That mindset underpins a common belief among the digital advertising industry that with granular audience targeting, program-based buying is a vestige of the past, and context shouldn’t matter. The thinking goes that programs are simply bought as a proxy for reaching a target audience, and that method is wasteful when you have means of targeting individuals in a more addressable way.

It ignores that brand building develops from emotional association that grows over longer time periods than most attribution windows provide. TV advertising isn’t the largest brand building medium simply because of its broad audience scale; stories that can be delivered in sight, sound and motion provide an incredibly effective vehicle for emotional connection. This is why context matters.

Getting into context

While digital media buyers take advantage of rich audience targeting and measurement that OTT affords, as advertising dollars follow the consumption patterns from linear programming into streaming, so too follows the expectations around contextual placement. 

The easier, initial step for buyers is to choose streaming apps and differentiate professionally produced movies and television with less premium digital content that may be less brand safe and found from aggregators. Buyers may also choose to use content ratings and/or genres, but these tools tend to be too crude for choosing environments, as ratings shift over time and approximately two-thirds of entertainment viewing falls into three broad genres (action, comedy and drama). 

And so the desire for program-level buying and transparency surfaces, quickly meeting practical and legal issues. Streaming is a narrowcast model where viewers have tens of thousands of program options at any moment and titles can be merchandised in a personalized way. Buyers are strapped for resources and combing through thousands of titles for buying or reporting is infeasible and counterproductive. 

Finding the appropriate solution

Notions of automating the transfer of content data to compile and combine with other personal identifiable information (PII) fail to account for the extent of legal issues that would arise from privacy laws, namely Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). Newer consumer privacy legislation will likely compound these limitations. So, what are marketers to do to meet the need for contextual alignment and understanding in streaming television advertising?

Potential solutions must be able to process and make sense of tens of thousands of titles and do so in a way that meets the requirements of VPPA around digital identifiers and content viewing. At the same time, solutions should be able to provide information on the context in which ads were served and insights on the audiences viewing the ads based on the content they consumed. 

One solution could come from the rising trend of clean rooms. These cloud-based environments are built for security and privacy of commingled data, such as first-party data from brands and media companies. But as Steve Silvers, SVP of product at data technology platform Neustar states, clean rooms solve “the sharing problem and not the data problem.” Applications to address the data to make it useful for analysis and action are not automatic and are likely a few years off for contextual insights.

Tubi has introduced a product using the technology initially built for content personalization and recommendations. The underlying technology—Content Intelligence—takes in viewing and audience signals along with metadata about the movies and television programs to generate content clusters that dive much deeper into the essence of the content. 

Now in addition to using this for a personalized viewing experience, Tubi created Campaign Insights, which uses content clusters to provide transparency and insights for advertisers with a deeper understanding of contextual alignment. Instead of just the genre of drama, Tubi can identify “at a crossroads” films where characters have a difficult choice to make that will change the course of their lives, or “civil rights and injustice” dramas based on actual or inspired events. These clusters are overlaid with detailed audience attributes to combine an advertiser’s understanding of the audiences delivered within the content their message is placed.

Whether via Campaign Insights or other products, solutions with a managed service are likely to have more immediate impact on the industry. These solutions, complemented by other cutting-edge innovations in OTT, will help drive the evolution in digital advertising to fuel transparency and mark a resurgence in contextual advertising. 

Bridging the gap between content, context and audience will not only give advertisers unprecedented insights into the performance of their communications efforts but super serve every community, moment and mood as we define the next chapter for contextual advertising in OTT.

By Mark Rotblat is the chief revenue officer of Tubi—FOX Entertainment’s free streaming service. As CRO, Mark is responsible for driving the company’s global sales and partnerships, expanding the company’s revenue efforts, and increasing value for advertising partners.

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