Broadcasters Bet Big on Pooling Their Attribution Efforts. But Will It Pay Off?

Many hurdles remain before the fusion of TV and digital advertising is realized

illustration of devices about ad targeting
OpenAP aims to help standardize audiences across a wide variety of screens.
Getty Images

The television industry is widely predicted to be on the cusp of a revolution in how advertisers can target viewers, one in which  broadcasters hope to slash their ad load without sacrificing revenue.

In the industry’s early attempts to enable this ideal at scale, differences of opinion when it comes to the very fundamentals of ad targeting have led to hiccups. But many of broadcasting’s biggest names remain committed to the proposition.

The fragmented media landscape is causing confusion over what TV actually means–linear? digital? streaming? all of the above?—making it difficult to define a unified consumer experience for advertisers. That is what led Turner, Viacom and Fox to join forces in 2017 and roll out OpenAP, a unified marketplace for next generation TV advertising.

It's tough to get cooperation in the industry.
Ross Benes, analyst with eMarketer

Theoretically, everyone wins: Media buyers have an easier time buying, and broadcasters have an easier time selling. But some experts remain skeptical about its execution.

The sheer number of screens and platforms in the contemporary TV landscape has led to advertiser confusion, according to Ross Benes, an eMarketer analyst who focuses on connected TV.

“There just hasn’t been a great way for all of the underlying ad tech to communicate,” Benes said. “If someone’s running a particular campaign, they might be buying on YouTube, Hulu and Roku, each with their own ad servers. When you add in the targeting vendors and the different APIs, it just gets compounded into this massive logistical headache.”

The original idea of a centralized OpenAP TV marketplace dates back to 2017, with the consortium initially formed by Viacom, Fox and Turner (renamed WarnerMedia after AT&T acquired it last summer); NBCUniversal joined a year later.

Then WarnerMedia pulled out of OpenAP in March, opting to pursue its advanced TV ambitions with its AT&T stablemate Xandr. The three remaining members stayed committed, doubling down a month later with OpenAP 2.0 and adding the 85 million-strong household footprint of NCC Media (co-owned by Charter Communications, Comcast Corporation and Cox Communications) to its stable.

One of the main reasons behind OpenAP’s stuttering start has been the lack of clear guidelines to addressable TV, according to sources.

“Networks back then were still afraid and opposed to the notion of addressable,” said Alan Wolk, lead analyst at TV[R]EV. “Not only that, most of them didn’t have a way to make that happen; they just didn’t have any of the first-party data and didn’t know who was watching.”

The gap between TV audiences and online targeting

The meteoric rise in popularity of connected television (CTV) and OTT devices is helping bring audiences into better focus, but advertisers are still struggling to reach their desired demographics.

For instance, if a major advertiser wants to go beyond the typical Nielsen demographics and reach a particular audience—say, new mothers—each broadcaster has a different definition of that target demographic. One, for example, might define it as women with children under 2 years old, while another might lower that age to younger than 6 months.

This is the problem OpenAP was originally meant to solve, consolidating ad-tech partners and attribution methods so advertisers can target select demographics across an aggregated marketplace that could “get everyone speaking the same language,” per Wolk.

Similarly, earlier this year, the Media Rating Council released a draft of its cross-media measurement standards that proposes a singular set of measurement metrics for audiences across television, OTT and digital video.

This formed part of the MRC’s Making Measurement Make Sense initiative and is the kind of standard most brands are asking for, according to Oleg Korenfeld, the chief platforms officer at Wavemaker.

The MRC recently concluded a consultation period with industry stakeholders like the Association of National Advertisers on proposed standards for measuring video ad exposure across different screens, according to reports. These included increasing on-page pixel loads for an ad to be deemed viewable from 50% to 100%.

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