According to eMarketer, in 2021 an estimated 83% of U.S. households will have a television that is connected to the internet. With the proliferation of new subscription services and COVID-19 causing a major surge in TV streaming, over-the-top (OTT) and connected TV (CTV) advertising continues to carve out a significant space in the media landscape. This is helping to replicate the traditional TV experience and reach new, growing audiences—who may be light TV watchers or cord-cutters—all while incorporating data to help fine tune the target and drive efficiencies. As the space has grown, OTT/CTV providers have made progress in offering more innovative solutions for marketers to take advantage of.
OTT… CTV… What’s the Difference?
Very often, OTT and CTV are spoken of as a single, interchangeable means of viewing video content. And while they can be one and the same, it’s worth noting the differences:
- OTT refers to video streamed over the internet, most often via platforms like Hulu, Netflix, Prime Video, Sling TV, etc. OTT can occur on any internet-enabled device, including smartphones, tablets, desktop, gaming consoles and TVs.
- CTV refers to televisions that connect to the internet, either through a smart TV’s own operating system or a separate piece of hardware such as an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku or PlayStation. Think of CTV as a subset of OTT, but restricted to the “big screen” TV experience.
The majority of ads served to individuals streaming content via OTT/CTV are like those you might see on live TV—a 15- or 30-second spot that runs during a break in the content. As the space has grown and continues to evolve, vendors are imagining new and innovative ways to serve creative messaging on their platforms.
- Video Overlays—Several OTT/CTV providers allow for additional text or graphics to appear alongside an advertiser’s commercial, usually a static image or rich media unit framing the video spot.
- Dynamic Web Activations—Graphic overlay is synced up with the advertiser’s website, allowing advertisers to run a more generic brand spot while highlighting a particular product, deal or service that is being promoted online. For example, if a QSR has a different meal special each day and promotes it on their website, they could run the same :30 spot seven days a week but have the daily special be automatically updated in the overlay.
- Static Overlays—The OTT/CTV equivalent of having a display ad paired with online video. Static overlays can include additional text or graphics to reinforce messaging in the video spot, or they can incorporate things like QR codes to help drive further engagement with a mobile device.
- Interactive Overlays—While the spot plays, a complementary message appears on the bottom of the screen highlighting a brand offer or CTA. In this case, viewers are prompted to engage via their remote and enter their mobile phone number or email address to receive a brand link. Possible activations could include coupons, sales event details, app installations, donations, sweepstakes entries, registrations, etc.
- Choose Your Adventure—Before the commercial launches, viewers are presented a menu screen giving them a choice of two or three spots to watch with a short description of each. The user then chooses which spot to view, making it a more active experience and helping drive recall. It could also serve as a basic A/B test, helping establish which creative garners the most interest.
- Skip the Ads (But Only After You Watch This Longer One)—When a viewer selects their show, they can be presented with a branded a menu screen asking if they would like to skip the regular commercial breaks by watching a long-form spot (one to two minutes). This format provides brands with the viewer’s exclusive attention, as well as offers a place to run long-form ads that might not fit into a traditional or OTT/CTV commercial break.
It’s important to note that these capabilities are not universal across all platforms and vendors. If there are creative messaging opportunities that work well with one particular format, there needs to be a conversation early in the planning phase to make sure all factors are considered and aligned (budget, scalability, etc.).
One of the early challenges for marketers evaluating OTT/CTV has been identifying measurable actions. Without the ability to always engage with ads on your TV set like you would an in-stream or display ad on desktop or mobile (think clicks), there isn’t a direct path to the advertiser’s website for further engagement. One could look at the overall impressions or cost per view to gauge awareness and efficiency, but—outside of some exceptions I noted—it hasn’t been possible to track specific user actions.
Recently, there have been significant improvements in attribution tracking as vendors are incorporating data sources that connect multiple devices, providing a single view of audience actions:
- Post-view Website Visits—A user who has been exposed to an OTT/CTV ad and later had a direct engagement on the advertiser’s website.
- Inferred Impact—Track user behaviors online after being exposed to an OTT/CTV ad. For instance, after seeing an ad for a travel destination, is that individual searching keywords, visiting third-party sights, or reading reviews and performing research that would suggest interest and potential influence?
- Foot Traffic—Offline, cross-device tracking that shows an individual who was served an OTT/CTV ad visited the store or venue being advertised.
- Online Purchase Attribution—Track users who purchase products online that were advertised on OTT/CTV. This can include products purchased from the brand website or from Amazon.
- Offline Conversion Tracking—Incorporate an advertiser’s CRM/sales transaction data to determine which customers were exposed to an ad via OTT/CTV.
While OTT/CTV has made significant gains in its offerings to marketers in the past year, expect more to come in the near future. Increased usage will lend itself to greater scale and targeting opportunities at local levels, new interactive and creative extensions will continue to be developed by platforms and manufacturers, and further attribution measurements and insights will be established.