For the last few years, “OTT” and “Advanced TV” have been major buzzwords in the media industry. Rumor has it that digital TV is the future, but depending on who you ask, its definition varies.
So first things first: what are “OTT” and “Advanced TV?”
Think of “Advanced TV” as a broad umbrella term, meaning content designed for TV that is accessible beyond traditional “linear TV” delivery models like Fios and Comcast. This could mean watching Friends on Netflix, catching up on the latest Grey’s Anatomy via the WatchABC mobile app, or accessing SportsCenter live on ESPN through Sling.
Under the umbrella of Advanced TV falls OTT, or over-the-top. OTT leverages apps to stream video content to a TV via an internet connection. The best examples of OTT include content accessed through a Smart TV (think Roku TV and Samsung TV) or a streaming box/stick (think Chromecast, Apple TV, or Fire Stick). These devices allow you to access streamed content through a variety of partners, such as Sling, YouTube, and Crackle.
OTT usage has grown dramatically in the past several years. Roku, the leading OTT platform, now reaches nearly 29 million active households across the U.S., compared to Comcast’s 22 million households. OTT’s growing reach, combined with various data sources, means we can now leverage the benefits of digital targeting on bigger, more engaging screens. OTT can use targeting parameters such as demo, behavior, purchase intent, and occupation—just to name a few. This allows for advertisers to serve more relevant ads to their audience based on their viewing data.
Aside from Roku, there are many other partners dominating the Advanced TV space. Companies like Philo, Xumo, and Tubi provide large libraries of content to users looking to cancel their standard cable contracts, or cord-cutters. These platforms run ad pods that are nearly one quarter to one half of the length of those breaks on linear TV. Because the ad pods are shorter and more relevant to viewers, OTT reaches a very captive and interactive audience. OTT’s flexible nature allows publishers to mold their owned platforms to their needs, allowing different properties to work together. For example, Nipsey Hussle’s memorial coverage on CBS’s streaming app, CBS ALL Access, garnered so much attention that they decided to open up coverage of the ceremony to their other OTT properties (e.g., E!). At the most recent AdAge conference on OTT, CBS mentioned that this flexibility allowed them to give viewers the content they were looking for, while also drawing in the most traffic their streaming apps had seen in 18 months.
OTT is valuable to advertisers in a number of ways. The audience is more captive due to the nature of the viewing (less channel surfing, more binging). It’s the perfect environment for consumers to interact with ad content. Advertisers can provide added benefits that leave a positive impression of the brand, like rewarding users with free viewing in exchange for watching branded content. For example, if the viewer pauses their show, use that opportunity to provide a snack/bathroom break from a relevant sponsor, like Charmin and Coke do with Hulu.
Publishers are calling on agencies to partner with them to come up with creative ideas to mold the OTT space. Although streaming TV has come a long way, they haven’t even skimmed the surface of what’s possible in terms of content or advertising. New ad and show formats are constantly being created, which allows advertisers to get creative with the way they use their ad space. Streaming partners encourage agencies to use disruption as a strategy in such a new and virtually unexplored space.
While OTT is streamable on many devices, the majority of streaming takes place on the biggest screen in the house, commonly in a co-viewing format. Agencies and advertisers are beginning to factor these additional impressions into campaign measurement. For some, this involves counting multiple impressions for one ad being served, but there is still a lot of gray area around measurement and tracking in the space. For now, many are leveraging OTT as a baseline branding tactic due to the difficulty that comes with tracking campaign performance.
Ultimately, a holistic cross-platform approach is needed for brand growth. OTT provides a valuable way to reach attentive consumers unreachable through linear TV. It’s also a great way for brands to run a more targeted television buy at a fraction of the cost. In order to move campaign measurement in the space forward, advertisers need to run more campaigns, ultimately leading to more data and forcing the industry to invest in the missing pieces. Brands should continue to align with premium, long-form content that can be found across TV, digital video, and OTT platforms. It’s important to keep in mind that people are still watching TV content—there are just more ways to access that content. Campaigns should focus on aligning with the new TV environment, wherever their audience might be.